Review of incidence and outcomes of treatment of cholangiocarcinoma in patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis

World J Gastrointest Oncol. 2021 Oct 15;13(10):1336-1366. doi: 10.4251/wjgo.v13.i10.1336.


Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is a premalignant condition and a well-documented risk factor for cholangiocarcinoma (CCA) which is the most common malignancy in this setting and the leading cause of deaths in the recent years, with an increasing incidence. PSC-associated CCA has a geographical distribution that follows the incidence of PSC, with an observed ascending gradient from the Eastern to the Western and from the Southern to the Northern countries. It may arise at any location along the biliary tree but is most common in the perihilar area. Patients with PSC and intrahepatic or perihilar CCA are typically not suitable for liver resection, which is otherwise the treatment of choice with curative intent in patients with resectable tumours, providing a radical resection with clear margins can be achieved. This largely relates to the commonly advanced stage of liver disease at presentation, which allows consideration for liver resection only for a very limited number of suitable patients with PSC. On the other hand, remarkable progress has been reached in the last decades with the implementation of a protocol combining neoadjuvant chemoradiation and orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) for the treatment of perihilar CCA, within specific criteria. Excellent results have been achieved particularly for PSC patients with this cancer, who seem to benefit the most from this treatment, having converted this into an accepted indication for transplantation and the standard of care in several experienced centres. Intrahepatic CCA as an indication for OLT remains controversial and has not been accepted given disappointing previous results. However, as recent studies have shown favourable outcomes in early intrahepatic CCA, it may be that under defined criteria, OLT may play a more prominent role in the future. Distal CCA in the context of PSC requires aggressive surgical treatment with curative intent, when feasible. This review provides insight about particular features of CCA in the setting of PSC, with a main focus on its incidence, considerations relating to its anatomical location and implications to treatment and outcomes, through the viewpoint of historical evolution of management, and future perspectives.

Keywords: Adjuvant therapy; Cholangiocarcinoma; Liver resection; Liver transplantation; Neoadjuvant therapy; Primary sclerosing cholangitis.

Publication types

  • Review