ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography)

An ERCP is a test that allows doctors to look at the pancreas, gallbladder and bile duct. They can take a biopsy during the test.

What is an ERCP?

Doctors may use an ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography) to help diagnose pancreatic cancergallbladder cancer or bile duct cancer. The doctor can take a biopsy during the test. It can also be used to unblock the bile ducts and relieve jaundice.

The doctor passes a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope down your throat. This goes down into your stomach and into the first part of the small bowel (duodenum).

Liver and surrounding organs

Before having an ERCP

You should not eat or drink anything for 6 hours before the test. This is so your stomach and the first part of your small bowel (duodenum) are empty.

You will have antibiotics before an ERCP, to help prevent infection. You may need to stay in hospital overnight.

Having an ERCP

The doctor or nurse will give you a tablet or an injection to relax you (a sedative). They also use a local anaesthetic spray to numb your throat. Rarely, doctors do this test under general anaesthetic (while you are asleep).

Your doctor will look down the endoscope. This helps them find the openings where the bile duct and the pancreatic duct drain into the duodenum. They can inject a dye which shows up on x-rays into the ducts. This helps them to see if there is a blockage, or any abnormal areas.

If there is a blockage, your doctor may put in a small tube to open the duct. This is called a stent.

Biopsies during an ERCP

If there are any abnormal areas, your doctor may take samples of cells (biopsies). They may put a small brush down the endoscope and take biopsies from the tumour. They will then send the brush with the cells on it to a laboratory, to be tested for cancer.

About our information


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Dr Paul Ross, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.