Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography: a meta-analysis of test performance in suspected biliary disease

Ann Intern Med. 2003 Oct 7;139(7):547-57. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-139-7-200310070-00006.


Background: Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) is one of many newer noninvasive tests that can image the biliary tree.

Purpose: To precisely estimate the overall sensitivity and specificity of MRCP in suspected biliary obstruction and to evaluate clinically important subgroups.

Data sources: MEDLINE search (January 1987 to March 2003) for studies in English or French, bibliographies, and subject matter experts.

Study selection: Studies were included if they allowed construction of 2x2 contingency tables of MRCP compared with a reasonable gold standard for at least 1 of the following: the presence, level, or cause of biliary obstruction.

Data extraction: Two independent observers graded study quality, which included consecutive enrollment, blinding, use of a single (versus composite) gold standard, and nonselective use of the gold standard. Logistic regression was used to examine the influence of publication year, quality score, proportion of patients having a "direct" gold standard, and clinical context on diagnostic performance.

Data synthesis: Of 498 studies identified, 67 were included (4711 patients). Mixed-effect models were used to estimate the sensitivity and specificity, and quantitative receiver-operating characteristic analysis was performed. Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography had a high overall pooled sensitivity (95% [+/-1.96 SD: spread of SD, 75% to 99%]) and specificity (97% [spread of SD, 86% to 99%]). The procedure was less sensitive for stones (92%; odds ratio, 0.51 [CI, 0.35 to 0.75]) and malignant conditions (88%; odds ratio, 0.28 [CI, 0.18 to 0.44]) than for the presence of obstruction. In addition, diagnostic performance was higher in studies that were larger, did not use consecutive enrollment, and did not use gold standard assessment for some patients.

Conclusions: Magentic resonance cholangiopancreatography is a noninvasive imaging test with excellent overall sensitivity and specificity for demonstrating the level and presence of biliary obstruction; however, it seems less sensitive for detecting stones or differentiating malignant from benign obstruction.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Cholangiography / methods*
  • Cholelithiasis / diagnosis
  • Cholestasis / diagnosis*
  • Cholestasis / etiology
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Pancreatic Ducts / pathology*
  • ROC Curve
  • Sensitivity and Specificity