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Comparing the efficacy of initial percutaneous transhepatic biliary drainage and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography with stenting for relief of biliary obstruction in unresectable cholangiocarcinoma

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In patients with cholangiocarcinoma (CC), management of biliary obstruction commonly involves either up-front percutaneous transhepatic biliary drainage (PTBD) or initial endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) with stent placement. The objective of the study was to compare the efficacy and of initial ERCP with stent placement with efficacy of initial PTBD in management of biliary obstruction in CC.


A single-center database of patients with unresectable CC treated between 2006 and 2017 was queried for patients with biliary obstruction who underwent either PTBD or ERCP. Groups were compared with respect to patient, tumor, procedure, and outcome variables.


Of 87 patients with unresectable CC and biliary obstruction, 69 (79%) underwent initial ERCP while 18 (21%) underwent initial PTBD. Groups did not differ significantly with respect to age, gender, or tumor location. Initial procedure success did not differ between the groups (94% ERCP vs 89% PTBD, p = 0.339). Total number of procedures did not differ significantly between the two groups (ERCP median = 2 vs. PTC median = 2.5, p = 0.83). 21% of patients required ERCP after PTBD compared to 25% of patients requiring PTBD after ERCP (p = 1.00). Procedure success rate (97% ERCP vs. 93% PTBD, p = 0.27) and rates of cholangitis (22% ERCP vs. 17% PTBD, p = 0.58) were similar between the groups. Number of hospitalizations since initial intervention did not differ significantly between the two groups (ERCP median = 1 vs. PTC median = 3.5, p = 0.052).


In patients with CC and biliary obstruction, initial ERCP with stent placement and initial PTBD both represent safe and effective methods of biliary decompression. Initial ERCP and stenting should be considered for relief of biliary obstruction in such patients in centers with advanced endoscopic capabilities.

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Correspondence to G. C. Vitale.

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Dr. O’Brien, Dr. Bhutiani, Dr. Egger, Ms. Brown, Ms. Weaver, Mr. Kline, Dr. Kelly, Dr. Scoggins, Dr. Martin, and Dr. Vitale have no conflicts of interest or financial ties to disclose.

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O’Brien, S., Bhutiani, N., Egger, M.E. et al. Comparing the efficacy of initial percutaneous transhepatic biliary drainage and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography with stenting for relief of biliary obstruction in unresectable cholangiocarcinoma. Surg Endosc 34, 1186–1190 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00464-019-06871-2

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  • Cholangiocarcinoma
  • ERCP
  • Percutaneous transhepatic biliary drainage