ERCP is a procedure that enables your physician to examine the pancreatic and bile ducts. A bendable, lighted tube (endoscope) about the thickness of your index finger is placed through your mouth and into your stomach and first part of the small intestine (duodenum). In the duodenum a small opening is identified (ampulla) and a small plastic tube (cannula) is passed through the endoscope and into this opening. Dye (contrast material) is injected and X-rays are taken to study the ducts of the pancreas and liver.
ERCP is most commonly performed to diagnose conditions of the pancreas or bile ducts, and is also used to treat those conditions. It is used to evaluate symptoms suggestive of disease in these organs, or to further clarify abnormal results from blood tests or imaging tests such as ultrasound or CT scan. The most common reasons to do ERCP include abdominal pain, weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin), or an ultrasound or CT scan that shows stones or a mass in these organs.
ERCP may be used before or after gallbladder surgery to assist in the performance of that operation. Bile duct stones can be diagnosed and removed with an ERCP. Tumors, both cancerous and noncancerous, can be diagnosed and then treated with indwelling plastic tubes that are used to bypass a blockage of the bile duct. Complications from gallbladder surgery can also sometimes be diagnosed and treated with ERCP.
In patients with suspected or known pancreatic disease, ERCP will help determine the need for surgery or the best type of surgical procedure to be performed. Occasionally, pancreatic stones can be removed by ERCP.