Sometimes the affects of war can lay dormant for years before making their deadly assault. That’s the case with a rare bile duct cancer called cholangiocarcinoma, that’s affected hundreds of Vietnam War veterans. War always walks arm-in-arm with irony. The irony in this case is that the infection that causes the cancer rests in worms, eaten by fish, who are then eaten by humans. That infection can be easily wiped out with a few pills taken early on. The infection affects an estimated 25 million people in Asia.
But if left untreated, cholangiocarcinoma often develops, killing patients just a few months after symptoms appear. Over the past 15 years, nearly 700 cholangiocarcinoma patients have passed through the Veterans Affairs medical system.
STAT: “The parasites typically go undetected, sometimes living for more than 25 years without making their hosts sick. The body reacts by trying to wall off the organisms. This causes inflammation and scarring and, over time, can lead to cancer. The first symptoms are often jaundice, itchy skin and rapid weight loss. By then, the disease is usually advanced.”
Early detection is key, in other words, and there is a move on to have VA doctors use ultrasounds to detect inflammation.