Sensitivity of endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography standard cytology: 10-y review of the literature

J Surg Res. 2013 Sep;184(1):304-11. doi: 10.1016/j.jss.2013.06.028. Epub 2013 Jul 5.


Background: Biliary strictures present a unique diagnostic challenge to clinicians as they can be caused by both benign and malignant conditions. With the high mortalities associated with hepatopancreaticobiliary malignancies, accurate and rapid tissue diagnosis is imperative and typically done before initiation of treatment. However, the exact sensitivity of standard cytology from endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) to diagnose malignancy remains unclear because of wide distribution of reported values in the literature. Furthermore, the use of radical surgery to obtain tissue when cytology is indeterminate has led to questions about the role of ERCP in patients with biliary strictures.

Methods: A PubMed search was conducted using the terms ERCP, cytology, and brushings. Articles reviewed were published between 2002 and 2012, had patient population with biliary stricture, and had ERCP brushing results and final pathology available for review. The cytology and pathology data were abstracted from each study, and the combined overall sensitivity was calculated.

Results: Sixteen studies were identified, with sensitivities ranging from 6%-64% and 99% confidence intervals (CIs) ranging from ±6% to ±32%. A combined total of 1556 patients were included, with positive ERCP cytology results in 358 cases. On final pathology, however, 861 patients were positive for malignancy. When the data were combined, we found an overall sensitivity of 41.6% ± 3.2% (99% CI) with a negative predictive value of 58.0% ± 3.2% (99% CI).

Conclusions: ERCP brushings suffer from low sensitivity and negative predictive value. This study questions the utility of ERCP to change the surgical management of these diseases in patients with radiographic evidence of a neoplasm or high suspicion of a malignancy.

Keywords: Biliary cancer; Brushings; ERCP; Pancreatic cancer; Sensitivity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biliary Tract Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Cholangiopancreatography, Endoscopic Retrograde*
  • Cytodiagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Sensitivity and Specificity