Background: Pre-cutting techniques have been used to gain biliary access at the expense of an increased complication rate. This may be because of the multiple attempts to achieve cannulation by using standard methods before pre-cutting and causing excess edema and papillary trauma. There are limited data on the early use of pre-cutting techniques. Methods: We performed a prospective study of the early introduction of needle-knife techniques in patients with difficult biliary cannulation. Standard biliary cannulation was attempted with a sphincterotome and a guidewire. If this failed within 10 minutes or if there were more than 5 pancreatic cannulations, the needle-knife technique was used. Either a standard method of pre-cutting (below-upward) from the papillary orifice or the modified technique of pre-cutting (above-downward), stopping short of the papillary orifice, was adopted, as per the discretion of the endoscopist. If pre-cutting failed, the cannulation was reattempted 24 to 48 hours later. Results: A total of 346 therapeutic biliary ERCP procedures were performed between April and August 2003. Of these, 70 patients (20%) (mean age, 54 years; 38 men) underwent needle-knife pre-cut sphincterotomy (16 with the standard technique). In 58 patients (83%), the procedure was successful with the initial pre-cutting, making the total success at initial ERCP 334/346 (96.5%). Nine patients in whom pre-cut failed, returned for a second-attempt ERCP, with 7 completed successfully. The total success rate of pre-cutting was 65/70 (93%). The overall success rate of biliary cannulation, after two ERCP attempts, was 341/346 (98.5%). Six patients had mild bleeding, and one had mild pancreatitis. There was no difference in these complications between the two types of pre-cut techniques. Conclusions: The early use of needle knife for difficult biliary cannulation is safe and effective, irrespective of the technique used.
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