Baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Harwell has Bile Duct Cancer

Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell, 91, had been the voice of the Detroit Tigers for 42 years until his retirement in 2002. He announced today that he has cancer in the area of the bile duct. Last month, he spent a week in the hospital with symptoms of bile duct obstruction. Further evaluation revealed the tumor, which is said to be inoperable. In his characteristic manner, he is taking the news in stride, and being upbeat about it. In an interview with Detroit Free Press Harwell said, “We don’t know how long this lasts. It could be a year, it could be much less than a year, much less than half a year. Who knows? Whatever’s in store, I’m ready for a new adventure.That’s the way I look at it.”

What is bile? What do the bile ducts do?
Bile is a thick yellow-green digestive fluid which contains primarily cholesterol, bile acids (also called bile salts), and bilirubin (a breakdown product of red blood cells). It also contains water and body salts (potassium and sodium). It’s function is to break down fats into fatty acids which can be absorbed by the body. Bile is produced by cells in the liver and flows through small tubes (ductules) which run throughout the liver. These small tubes come together to form larger tubes (ducts) and eventually form the right and left hepatic ducts. These exit the liver and form into a common hepatic duct. About one third of the way along the length ofthe bile duct, the gallbladder (a small organ that stores bile between meals) attaches by a small duct called the cystic duct and forms the common bile duct. The common bile duct passes through part of the pancreas before it empties into the first part of the small intestine (the duodenum), next to where the pancreatic duct also entersthe small intestine (see diagram).

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Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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