Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, or ERCP, is sometimes called biliary and pancreatic endoscopy. It is a type of imaging test and procedure done to examine potential problems with the bile and pancreatic ducts. These ducts carry digestive fluid from the liver or pancreas to the gallbladder and intestines. An ERCP may be used to open blocked ducts, break up and remove gallstones, remove tumors, insert stents, or take a biopsy.
The ERCP procedure takes between 30 minutes and several hours, depending on the reason for the procedure and the findings of the exam. A sedative is given, and a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope is placed down the throat until it reaches the correct area. Dye is injected through the tube, and x-rays of the dye are taken, which show the ducts. Then, while the tube is still in place, tools can be maneuvered down it and used to treat the problem while the doctor uses the x-rays for guidance.
Although an ERCP can be used simply to diagnose a bile duct problem, there are other, less invasive imaging procedures (such as MRI) that can look at the ducts. The benefit of ERCP is that it can both diagnose a problem and deliver treatment at the same time.