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Videosurgery and Other Miniinvasive Techniques
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vol. 13
Original paper

Unexpected pathological findings after laparoscopic cholecystectomy – analysis of 1131 cases

Katarzyna Bartosiak, Maciej Liszka, Tomasz Drazba, Krzysztof Paśnik, Michal R. Janik

Videosurgery Miniinv 2018; 13 (1): 62–66
Online publish date: 2017/08/18
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Cholecystectomy is one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures. The laparoscopic approach is safe and feasible [1]. However, other minimal accesses have been described and may be more popular in the near future [2, 3]. The main indications are gallstone-related diseases and, therefore, changes related to gallstone pathology are commonly observed during routine histological examination (i.e. chronic or acute cholecystitis, empyema, mucocele, cholesterol deposits) [4]. Pathology guidelines still advise routine histological examination of gallbladder specimens due to the possibility of unexpected pathological findings, including gallbladder carcinoma (CaGB), biliary intraepithelial neoplasia (BilIN), epithelial dysplasia or metastasis from other organs [5]. This is supported by data showing that incidental findings in cases of CaGB during routine histopathology vary from 0.17% to 3.3%, with a range of 0.4–0.7% in Western countries [6]. On the other hand, a selective approach for histological examination of gallbladder specimens has been proposed by various authors, when considering the overall large scale economic implications and the low prevalence of the disease [7–9].


The aim of this study was to: (1) establish the overall incidence of unexpected pathological findings in patients who underwent laparoscopic cholecystectomy for symptomatic gallbladder disease and (2) determine whether the macroscopic appearance of the gallbladder in ultrasonography could be a valid method for identifying patients with gallbladder malignancy.

Material and methods

Between January 2013 and December 2015, a total of 1131 laparoscopic and open cholecystectomies were performed in a single institution. Clinical data were retrospectively collected and included age, sex, body mass index (BMI), indications for surgery, preoperative ultrasonography, methods of operation, intraoperative findings, histopathological reports and postoperative complications. Each cholecystectomy case was assessed for unexpected pathological findings detected in the histopathological examination. Unexpected pathological findings were defined as the presence of one of the following: adenocarcinoma, epithelial dysplasia, biliary intraepithelial neoplasia (BilIN), primary and secondary (metastatic) tumors of the gallbladder. In cases where unexpected pathological findings were identified, an additional preoperative abdominal ultrasound examination (USG) was performed to determine the usefulness of USG in the diagnosis of gallbladder malignancy.

Statistical analysis

Data were analyzed using SAS University Edition software (SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC, USA). Logistic regression was performed to identify risk factors for unexpected pathological findings. Demographic variables were included in the analysis (age, gender and BMI).


Of the 1131 patients included in the study, 356 (31.47%) were male and 774 (68.43%) were female. The youngest patient who underwent a cholecystectomy was 19 years old and the oldest was 92 years old. The mean age was 55 15 years. Descriptive characteristics are shown in Table I. The majority of patients underwent laparoscopy (n = 1064, 94%), while open surgery was performed in 16 (1.4%) cases. Forty-three (3.8%) procedures were started in laparoscopy, but had to be converted to the open technique due to operative findings/complications. One thousand and four (75.4%) operations were performed as planned. Emergency surgery was necessary in 92 (6.91%) cases. Thirty-five (2.62%) patients were treated with interval cholecystectomy between 4–8 weeks after the initial episode of acute cholecystitis. The mean length of hospitalization was 3.7 2.3 days. The mean BMI was 28.6 5.6 kg/m2.
Unexpected pathological findings were present in 21 cases. The overall incidence of unexpected pathological findings was 1.86%. All findings are listed in Table II. Out of 21 cases with unexpected pathological findings, the most common histopathological diagnoses were partially tubular, partially papillary adenocarcinoma (n = 7, 0.61%), pseudopyloric metaplasia (n = 4, 0.35%), and minor grade epithelial dysplasia (n = 3, 0.27%). The majority of the rest of the 1131 gallbladder specimens’ histological findings were chronic inflammation (n = 382, 33.8%), purulent cholecystitis (n = 312, 27.6%), cholelithiasis (n = 273, 21.5%) and gallbladder polyps (n = 17, 1.5%).
The patients with unexpected findings had a mean age of 65 13 years. The mean BMI was 27.5 5 kg/m2. Fifteen (71%) were female and 6 (29%) were male. The majority of patients (n = 18, 85%) underwent a laparoscopic operation, 1 (5%) patient had open surgery and in 2 (1%) cases there was conversion to the open technique. Nineteen (90%) operations were performed as planned. Emergency surgery was necessary in 2 (10%) cases. The mean length of hospitalization was 4.48 2.82 days. Logistic regression analysis revealed a correlation between the presence of unexpected findings and age (OR = 1.047, 95% CI: 1.010–1.085, p = 0.0125). Body mass index and gender were not risk factors for unexpected findings in histological examination, and were: OR = 0.957, 95% CI: 0.861–1.064, p = 0.417 and OR = 0.939, 95% CI: 0.32–2.758, p = 0.908, respectively.
The ultrasonography results were analyzed in all 21 cases of unexpected pathological findings confirmed by histopathological examinations. Only 5 patients had a suspicious appearance of the gallbladder observed in preoperative ultrasonography. In the remaining 16 patients, there was no suspicion of malignancy. The positive predictive value (PPV) of ultrasonography in detecting unexpected pathological findings is 0.238 (Table III).


In our study, the incidence of unexpected pathological findings was 1.86%. Comparable data have been published by other authors [5, 7, 10]. For example, Samad reported an incidence of 1.1% of malignancy in patients who underwent cholecystectomy for presumed chronic cholecystitis with cholelithiasis [11]. Gallbladder malignancy usually does not have any characteristic clinical features in over 90% of patients presenting symptoms of acute or chronic cholecystitis [5]. Most of the patients in our study presented with prior history of chronic cholecystitis, and there were no symptoms or signs suggesting an underlying malignancy in any of the patients. Many authors suggest that ultrasonography has low diagnostic accuracy for both advanced and early gallbladder cancer [5, 12]. Only 5 of the unexpected pathological findings in this study were suspected on preoperative ultrasound. In a similar study by Siddiqui et al., none of the six carcinomas were suspected on ultrasound [5]. This contrasts with a study by De Zoysa et al. [13] in which all four cancers were suspected either on preoperative ultrasonography or during surgery. The authors suggest a more selective approach to gallbladder histology. Similar observations and recommendations were also made in a study by Darmas et al. [7]. Recently, reports have also questioned the role of routine histopathological examination in all cholecystectomy specimens [8]. They state that the incidence of incidental gallbladder carcinoma is too low to justify routine histopathological examination and that the routine histopathological examination of all cholecystectomy specimens overburdens pathology departments and hospital resources. A selective approach for histological examination of gallbladders was suggested [5, 7–9, 14]. The proposed selective criteria were based on the intraoperative macroscopic appearance of the gallbladder. However, there are still reports in which unexpected findings were diagnosed only with the final histological examination. Byars et al. [15] suggested that advanced age and female sex combined with the data from radiological investigations, intra-operative macroscopic findings and the clinical picture of the patient could further increase the accuracy of the selective criteria. Our analysis confirmed the association between age and the risk of unexpected findings. However, the association was not present regarding gender and BMI.
Moreover, there is a discussion regarding the cost of histopathological examination. Mohamed and colleagues postulate the importance of estimating the economic implications of a routine histological approach and the advantages of a selective approach [16]. Byars et al. also suggest that there is a feasible and effective approach to reducing the number of gallbladders sent for histology, which increases cost-effectiveness and saves time [15].
Therefore, we recommend routine histopathological examination of all gallbladders removed at surgery, as the preoperative USG examination has low positive predictive value. Despite the low incidence of unexpected pathological findings, some of them require further treatment and a selective approach may overlook serious disease.
There are some limitations to our study. Firstly, our study is retrospective. Prospective studies are necessary to further assess and test our findings. Secondly, the number of included patients is limited. In view of the low incidence of unexpected findings, a high number of patients is required to provide sufficient power. In order to safely modify the current guidelines, a prospective, multicenter study must be performed.


The incidence of gallbladder carcinoma and other pathological findings in patients who underwent laparoscopic cholecystectomy for symptomatic gallbladder disease was 1.86%. Advanced age was associated with higher risk of unexpected findings. Ultrasonography has low positive predictive value in detecting unexpected pathological findings. Therefore, we strongly advocate conducting routine histopathology of all cholecystectomy specimens.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Received: 21.04.2017, accepted: 3.07.2017.
Copyright: © 2017 Fundacja Videochirurgii This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/), allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.
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