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Biopsy for bile duct cancer

A biopsy means removing a sample of cells or tissue and looking at it under a microscope. This is the only way to be certain whether a growth is cancer or not. Your doctor can take samples from the bile ducts in different ways such as using a needle or a brush.

In some cases, you may not need a biopsy if your doctor is sure from the results of your other tests that you have bile duct cancer.

How you have a biopsy

There are several different ways you can take samples from the bile ducts. 

Your doctor puts a long, flexible tube called an endoscope down your throat to look at your pancreas and bile ducts. This procedure is called an ERCP. The endoscope has a small camera and light at the end. Your doctor can take samples of any abnormal areas.

A percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (per-kew-tay-nee-us trans-hep-attic col-an-jee-og-raf-ee) is a way of of looking at your bile ducts using x-rays. 

Your doctor puts a long thin needle into the right side of your tummy (abdomen) and injects some dye into your bile ducts. The dye shows up any blockages on x-ray. Your doctor can take samples from the bile ducts.

Your doctor uses an ultrasound or CT scan to look at the bile ducts. You have a local anaesthetic injection in the skin over the area so that it goes numb.

Your doctor uses the scan to guide a fine needle through the skin and into the bile ducts. They attach a syringe to the needle and draw up a sample of cells. This is called a fine needle aspiration (FNA).

After the test

You need to stay in hospital for several hours after a biopsy, or overnight. There is a risk of bleeding afterwards and your doctor will want to keep an eye on you.

Your doctor sends the biopsy samples to the laboratory to be looked at under the microscope. 

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 or 2 weeks. 

Waiting for results can make you anxious. Ask your doctor or nurse how long it will take to get them. Contact the doctor who arranged the test if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

You might have contact details for a specialist nurse who you can contact for information if you need to. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

For information and support, you can call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Last reviewed: 
01 Dec 2020
Next review due: 
01 Dec 2023
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    SA Khan and others 
    Gut, 2012. Volume 61, Pages 1657-1669

  • Biliary cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
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