What is the role of endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography in the workup of pancreatic cancer?

Updated: Mar 07, 2019
  • Author: Tomislav Dragovich, MD, PhD; Chief Editor: N Joseph Espat, MD, MS, FACS  more...
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Answer

ERCP is a highly sensitive means of detecting pancreatic and/or biliary ductal abnormalities in pancreatic carcinoma. Among patients with pancreatic adenocarcinoma, 90-95% have abnormalities on ERCP findings. However, the changes observed on ERCP are not always highly specific for pancreatic carcinoma and can be difficult to differentiate from changes observed in patients with chronic pancreatitis.

ERCP is more invasive than the other diagnostic imaging modalities available for pancreatic carcinoma. ERCP also carries a 5-10% risk of significant complications. Because of this morbidity, it is usually reserved as a therapeutic procedure for biliary obstruction or for the diagnosis of unusual pancreatic neoplasms, such as intraductal pancreatic mucinous neoplasms (IPMN).

Brush cytology and forceps biopsy at the time of ERCP have been used to diagnose pancreatic carcinoma histologically; in most series, however, the yield of a cytologic diagnosis with these procedures has been less than 50%.

ERCP findings provide only limited staging information, but ERCP does have the advantage of allowing for therapeutic palliation of obstructive jaundice with either a plastic or metal biliary stent.


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