Role of Biliary Brush Cytology in Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis

Aseem Lal, Adaora Okonkwo, Susanne Schindler, Denise De Frias, Ritu Nayar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: To assess the role of brush cytology in the routine evaluation of patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). STUDY DESIGN: From January 1995 to June 2000, 64 brush cytology specimens were obtained from 21 patients who had at least one cytologic sample obtained during endoscopic retrograde cholangiography. All patients had a diagnosis of primary sclerosing cholangitis. Cases were classified as benign, atypical or malignant according to major cytologic criteria (nuclear contour and chromatin irregularities) and minor cytologic criteria (polarity, cellularity, nuclear enlargement, mitosis, increased nuclear/cytoplasmic ratio) used by us to diagnose biliary brush cytology. Follow-up was available in all cases. RESULTS: Diagnoses were benign (13), atypical (5) and malignant (3) on cytology. Follow-up of the 13 benign cases showed bile duct stones (2), gallbladder adenocarcinoma at cholecystectomy (1), ascending cholangitis (1) and clinically/cytologically by benign follow-up (9). Five of 13 benign cases had subsequent liver transplantation for liver failure, with explants showing changes of primary sclerosing cholangitis. Of the 3 malignant cases, 1 had carcinoma in situ on biopsy, with the explanted liver showing high grade dysplasia; the second patient had cholangiocarcinoma on explant; and the third had hepatocellular carcinoma on liver five needle aspiration. The 5 patients with atypical cytology were reclassified on review as reactive (3) and atypical not otherwise specified (2). Follow-up showed benign disease in 3 of 3 atypical cases reclassified as reactive; 2 of 2 reclassified as atypical not otherwise specified showed low grade dysplasia in the explant. CONCLUSION: The overall incidence of malignancy was low (3 of 21) in patients with PSC. Bile duct brushing is a sensitive method of detecting neoplasia in the setting of PSC when well-defined cytologic criteria are applied.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-12
Number of pages4
JournalActa Cytologica
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2004


  • Bile ducts
  • Brush cytology
  • Cholangitis, sclerosing
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreaticography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Histology


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