A policy of preoperative endoscopic retrograde cholangiography (ERC) for suspected bile duct stones was used in 1507 patients considered for laparoscopic cholecystectomy in three district general hospitals. Altogether 306 patients underwent ERC, and bile duct cannulation was achieved in 276 (90%). Bile ducts were cleared by endoscopic sphincterotomy in 128 of 161 patients (79%) with proven duct stones. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy was completed in 1396 patients. Ten laparotomies were necessary for complications of laparoscopic cholecystectomy. The complication rate for endoscopic sphincterotomy/laparoscopic cholecystectomy was 2.7%, with no mortality. Overall, a combined endoscopic/laparoscopic approach succeeded in 1386 patients (92%). Fourteen patients (1%) had retained stones during a median of 14 months (range 1-42) follow up, all of which were removed by ERC/endoscopic sphincterotomy. If a policy of selective ERC before laparoscopic cholecystectomy is used for all patients with symptomatic gall stones, most will avoid an open operation and laparoscopic exploration of the bile duct is not necessary.
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