Superficial thrombophlebitis, dysplasia, and cholangiocarcinoma in primary sclerosing cholangitis

Gastroenterology. 1994 Aug;107(2):537-42. doi: 10.1016/0016-5085(94)90182-1.


Cholangiocarcinoma occurs in approximately 10% of patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis. Usually, liver failure, rapidly progressing jaundice, and an increase in alkaline phosphatase levels are suggestive diagnostic features. We report two cases of patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis who developed cholangiocarcinoma without jaundice and with no changes in their serum biochemistry. Both patients were taking ursodeoxycholic acid at the time of tumor diagnosis. Initial suspicion of malignancy was based on the development of superficial thrombophlebitis. Liver histology showed evidence of bile duct epithelial dysplasia in areas free from tumor in one patient, and in the other, bile duct epithelial dysplasia preceded the appearance of cholangiocarcinoma by at least 18 months. In one of the cases, the dysplastic epithelium stained positively for carcinoembryonic antigen. The histological finding of bile duct epithelial dysplasia in patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis may suggest either imminent or actual development of cholangiocarcinoma and may thus affect consideration of orthotopic liver transplantation. In addition, the development of superficial thrombophlebitis in patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis should arouse suspicion of the presence of cholangiocarcinoma even if there is no evidence of deterioration of the liver function or a dominant stricture on endoscopic retrograde cholangiography.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / pathology
  • Bile Ducts / pathology*
  • Bile Ducts, Intrahepatic*
  • Cholangiocarcinoma / etiology*
  • Cholangiocarcinoma / pathology
  • Cholangitis, Sclerosing / complications*
  • Cholangitis, Sclerosing / pathology
  • Epithelium / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Thrombophlebitis / etiology*