Background: Nonsurgical pathologic confirmation of malignant bile duct strictures is desirable for defining subsequent treatment and prognosis. Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography is frequently performed in patients suspected of having pancreaticobiliary obstruction, but there exists no standardized method for defining the nature of obstructing lesions by ERCP.
Methods: We prospectively evaluated the yields of endoscopic retrograde brush cytology and biopsy for the diagnosis of malignant bile duct strictures. Fluoroscopically guided endobiliary biopsy and brush cytology (52) or cytology alone (42) were performed during endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography in 94 consecutive patients, 64 with malignant strictures and 30 with benign strictures. A single cytopathologist classified the results of these studies as positive or negative for malignancy.
Results: The sensitivities of the two procedures were identical (53%) and the gain achieved by combining the two techniques (61%) was small. Specificity proved excellent for both methods. One major complication that occurred was perforation of the common hepatic duct with leakage of bile, which was managed by surgical oversewing. This complication was ascribed to biopsy and untimely removal of the nasobiliary drain by the patient herself.
Conclusions: This study indicates that endoscopic retrograde brush cytology alone may be sufficient in daily practice, at least in centers that have access to experienced cytopathologists. We recommend use of forceps biopsy in selected cases where brush cytology is negative.