Is there a role for liver biopsy in primary sclerosing cholangitis?

Am J Gastroenterol. 2003 May;98(5):1155-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2003.07401.x.


Objective: Liver biopsies are performed in patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) to stage disease and to rule out coexisting liver disease. The purpose of this study was to examine how often routine liver biopsies provide important information in patients with PSC.

Methods: We reviewed the charts of 138 patients with a cholangiographic diagnosis of PSC to determine whether information from liver biopsy had an impact on clinical management.

Results: A total of 30 patients did not have a liver biopsy, whereas 29 patients had a biopsy before cholangiography. In 79 patients the liver biopsy was performed after the diagnosis of PSC was established by cholangiography (median time from cholangiography to liver biopsy, 21 days). In 78 of 79 patients (98.7%) the liver biopsy revealed no atypical findings and did not affect clinical management. In one patient the liver biopsy revealed findings of an overlap syndrome with autoimmune hepatitis, and the patient was treated with corticosteroids and azathioprine. This patient had biochemical features consistent with autoimmune hepatitis. One patient developed a bile leak after liver biopsy, requiring hospitalization (complication rate 0.9%).

Conclusions: Liver biopsies rarely contribute new information that affects the management of patients with PSC. Given the risks of the procedure, liver biopsies for patients with a diagnosis of PSC established by cholangiography may not routinely be necessary.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biopsy, Needle / methods
  • Cholangiography / methods
  • Cholangitis, Sclerosing / diagnosis*
  • Cholangitis, Sclerosing / drug therapy
  • Cholangitis, Sclerosing / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Liver / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Immunosuppressive Agents