Postoperative ERCP versus laparoscopic choledochotomy for clearance of selected bile duct calculi: a randomized trial

Leslie K Nathanson, Nicholas A O'Rourke, Ian J Martin, George A Fielding, Alistair E Cowen, Roderick K Roberts, Bradley J Kendall, Paul Kerlin, Benedict M Devereux
Annals of Surgery 2005, 242 (2): 188-92

OBJECTIVE: Prospectively evaluate whether for patients having laparoscopic cholecystectomy with failed trans-cystic duct clearance of bile duct (BD) stones they should have laparoscopic choledochotomy or postoperative endoscopic retrograde cholangiography (ERCP).

SUMMARY BACKGROUND DATA: Clinical management of BD stones found at laparoscopic cholecystectomy in the last decade has focused on pre-cholecystectomy detection with ERCP clearance in those with suspected stones. This clinical algorithm successfully clears the stones in most patients, but no stones are found in 20% to 60% of patients and rare unpredictably severe ERCP morbidity can result in this group. Our initial experience of 300 consecutive patients with fluoroscopic cholangiography and intraoperative clearance demonstrated that, for the pattern of stone disease we see, 66% of patients' BD stones can be cleared via the cystic duct with dramatic reduction in morbidity compared to the 33% requiring choledochotomy or ERCP. Given the limitations of the preoperative approach to BD stone clearance, this trial was designed to explore the limitations, for patients failing laparoscopic trans-cystic clearance, of laparoscopic choledochotomy or postoperative ERCP.

METHODS: Across 7 metropolitan hospitals after failed trans-cystic duct clearance, patients were intraoperatively randomized to have either laparoscopic choledochotomy or postoperative ERCP. Exclusion criteria were: ERCP prior to referral for cholecystectomy, severe cholangitis or pancreatitis requiring immediate ERCP drainage, common BD diameter of less than 7 mm diameter, or if bilio-enteric drainage was required in addition to stone clearance. Drain decompression of the cleared BD was used in the presence of cholangitis, an edematous ampulla due to instrumentation or stone impaction and technical difficulties from local inflammation and fibrosis. The ERCP occurred prior to discharge from hospital. Mechanical and extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy was available. Sphincter balloon dilation as an alternative to sphincterotomy to allow stone extraction was not used. Major endpoints for the trial were operative time, morbidity, retained stone rate, reoperation rate, and hospital stay.

RESULTS: From June 1998 to February 2003, 372 patients with BD stones had successful trans-cystic duct clearance of stones in 286, leaving 86 patients randomized into the trial. Total operative time was 10.9 minutes longer in the choledochotomy group (158.8 minutes), with slightly shorter hospital stay 6.4 days versus 7.7 days. Bile leak occurred in 14.6% of those having choledochotomy with similar rates of pancreatitis (7.3% versus 8.8%), retained stones (2.4% versus 4.4%), reoperation (7.3% versus 6.6%), and overall morbidity (17% versus 13%).

CONCLUSIONS: These data suggest that the majority of secondary BD stones can be diagnosed at the time of cholecystectomy and cleared trans-cystically, with those failing having either choledochotomy or postoperative ERCP. However, because of the small trial size, a significant chance exists that small differences in outcome may exist. We would avoid choledochotomy in ducts less than 7 mm measured at the time of operative cholangiogram and severely inflamed friable tissues leading to a difficult dissection. We would advocate choledochotomy as a good choice for patients after Billroth 11 gastrectomy, failed ERCP access, or where long delays would occur for patient transfer to other locations for the ERCP.

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