Discrimination between benign and malignant biliary strictures is difficult, with 5.2 to 24.5 per cent of biliary strictures proving to be benign after histological examination of the resected specimen. This study aimed to evaluate the clinicopathological features of benign biliary strictures in patients undergoing resection for presumed biliary malignancy. From January 1990 to August 2010, 5 of 153 (3.3%) patients who had undergone resection after a preoperative diagnosis of biliary malignancy had a final histological diagnosis of benign biliary stricture. The infiltration of immunoglobulin G4-positive plasma cells was evaluated by immunohistochemistry. None of the five patients had a history of trauma or earlier hepatobiliary surgery and all five underwent hemihepatectomy (combined with extrahepatic bile duct resection in three patients). Postoperative morbidity was recorded in two patients (transient cholangitis and biliary fistula), but there was no postoperative mortality. Histological re-examination identified immunoglobulin G4-related sclerosing cholangitis (n = 2) and nonspecific fibrosis/inflammation (n = 3). No preoperative clinical or radiographic features were identified that could reliably distinguish patients with benign biliary strictures from those with biliary malignancies. Although benign biliary strictures are rare, differentiating benign strictures from malignancy remains problematic. Thus, the treatment approach for biliary strictures should remain surgical resection for presumed biliary malignancy.