The role of sonography in imaging of the biliary tract

W Dennis Foley, Francisco A Quiroz
Ultrasound Quarterly 2007, 23 (2): 123-35
Sonography is the recommended initial imaging test in the evaluation of patients presenting with right upper quadrant pain or jaundice. Dependent upon clinical circumstances, the differential diagnosis includes choledocholithiasis, biliary stricture, or tumor. Sonography is very sensitive in detection of mechanical biliary obstruction and stone disease, although less sensitive for detection of obstructing tumors, including pancreatic carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma. In patients with sonographically documented cholelithiasis and choledocholithiasis, laparoscopic cholecystectomy with operative clearance of the biliary stone disease is usually performed. In patients with clinically suspected biliary stone disease, without initial sonographic documentation of choledocholithiasis, endoscopic ultrasound or magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography is the next logical imaging step. Endoscopic ultrasound documentation of choledocholithiasis in a postcholecystectomy patient should lead to retrograde cholangiography, sphincterotomy, and clearance of the ductal calculi by endoscopic catheter techniques. In patients with clinical and sonographic findings suggestive of malignant biliary obstruction, a multipass contrast-enhanced computed tomography (CT) examination to detect and stage possible pancreatic carcinoma, cholangiocarcinoma, or periductal neoplasm is usually recommended. Assessment of tumor resectability and staging can be performed by CT or a combination of CT and endoscopic ultrasound, the latter often combined with fine needle aspiration biopsy of suspected periductal tumor. In patients whose CT scan suggests hepatic hilar or central intrahepatic biliary tumor, percutaneous cholangiography and transhepatic biliary stent placement is usually followed by brushing or fluoroscopically directed fine needle aspiration biopsy for tissue diagnosis. Sonography is the imaging procedure of choice for biliary tract intervention, including cholecystostomy, guidance for percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography, and drainage of peribiliary abscesses.

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