Background: Before considering a nonsurgical method of management of a bile duct stenosis, a tissue diagnosis is highly desirable. In a prospective study we have evaluated the feasibility and reliability of endobiliary brush cytology and biopsies performed at the time of endoscopic retrograde cholangiography.
Methods: Two hundred thirty-three consecutive patients underwent an attempt at endobiliary brush cytology and biopsies of bile duct stenosis when no mass was detected on ultrasound and CT scan.
Results: The material for cytology was sufficient for analysis in 210 cases (90%) and biopsies were obtained in 128 cases (55%). One hundred fifteen patients had both cytology and biopsies (49%). For the diagnosis of malignant stenosis, the sensitivity was 35% for cytology, 43% for biopsies, and 63% for the combination of cytology and biopsies. For both cytology and biopsies, the specificity was 97%. In the cases of cancer primarily involving the bile ducts, the sensitivity was 86% when combining both cytology and biopsies.
Conclusions: Endobiliary sampling is technically difficult and has a limited sensitivity for the diagnosis of malignant biliary stenosis. Biopsies should be combined with cytology to increase the sensitivity.