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Value of exfoliative cytology for investigating bile duct strictures.
  1. B Davidson,
  2. N Varsamidakis,
  3. J Dooley,
  4. A Deery,
  5. R Dick,
  6. T Kurzawinski,
  7. K Hobbs
  1. Department of Surgery, Royal Free Hospital and Medical School, London.


    The cause of a biliary tract stricture may be difficult to determine radiologically. Exfoliative biliary cytology was evaluated in 62 patients (median age 65 years, range 30-94) with biliary tract strictures presenting to the Hepatobiliary Unit between January 1984 and December 1989. Bile samples were taken during endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) in 42 patients, percutaneous cholangiography in 14, and both in six. The site of stricturing was upper third of the bile duct in 43% (n = 27), middle third in 10% (n = six), and lower third in 47% (n = 29). Of the 47 patients with radiological appearances of a malignant stricture, 22 (47%) had histological confirmation by biopsy either under computed tomography guidance, at endoscopy, at operation, or at necropsy. Fourteen of the 47 patients had positive cytology (30%). In seven patients cytology alone established the presence of malignancy (15%) and in the other seven positive cytology was confirmed by histology. The addition of cytology to tissue biopsy therefore allowed malignancy to be confirmed in 29 of the 47 patients (62%). None of the 15 patients subsequently shown to have benign disease had positive cytology. Sensitivity of the technique was 30% and specificity 100%. Samples for exfoliative cytology are simple to obtain, the results are highly specific and should be a routine part of the investigation of biliary strictures.

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