Biopsy, Biliary Tract

Definition

A biliary tract biopsy is the removal of small amounts of cells and fluids from the duodenum, bile ducts, pancreas, or pancreatic duct. The sample is examined under a microscope.

Alternative Names

Cytology analysis - biliary tract; Biliary tract biopsy

How the Test is Performed

A sample for a biliary tract biopsy can be obtained in different ways.

A needle biopsy can be done if you have a well-defined tumor.

  • The biopsy site is cleaned.
  • A thin needle is inserted into the area to be tested, and a sample of cells and fluid are removed.
  • The needle is then removed.
  • Pressure is put on the area to stop any bleeding. The site will be covered with a bandage.

If you have a narrowing or blockage of the bile or pancreatic ducts, a sample can be taken during procedures such as:

  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram (PTCA)

How to Prepare for the Test

You may not be able to eat or drink 8 to 12 hours or more before the test. Your health care provider will tell you ahead of time what you need to do.

Make sure you have someone to drive you home.

How the Test will Feel

How the test will feel depends on the type of procedure used to remove the biopsy sample. With a needle biopsy, you may feel a sting as the needle is inserted. Some people feel a cramping or pinching feeling during the procedure.

Medicines that stop pain and help you relax are commonly used for other biliary tract biopsy methods.

Why the Test is Performed

A biliary tract biopsy can determine if a tumor started in the liver or spread from another location. It also can determine if the tumor is cancerous.

This test may be done:

  • After a physical exam, x-ray, MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound shows abnormal growths in your biliary tract
  • To test for diseases or infection

Normal Results

A normal result means there are no signs of cancer, disease, or infection in the biopsy sample.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results may be due to:

  • Cancer of the bile ducts (cholangiocarcinoma)
  • Cysts in the liver
  • Liver cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Swelling and scarring of the bile ducts (primary sclerosing cholangitis)

Risks

Risks depend on how the biopsy sample was taken.

Risks may include:

  • Bleeding at the biopsy site
  • Infection

References

Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Biopsy, site-specific—specimen. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:199-201.

Stockland AH, Baron TH. Endoscopic and radiologic treatment of biliary disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 70.

Review Date: 01/01/2019

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Information developed by A.D.A.M., Inc. regarding tests and test results may not directly correspond with information provided by UCSF Health. Please discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.

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