Background Intrahepatic stone is common in East Asia. Hepatolithiasis is a risk factor for cholangiocarcinoma but it is difficult to make an accurate diagnosis before operation. The effect of intrahepatic stone on diagnosis, treatment and survival in patients with coexistent cholangiocarcinoma was investigated.

Methods Between 1981 and 1994, 33 patients with hepatolithiasis and associated cholangiocarcinoma were identified and compared respectively to 18 patients with intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma alone.

Results Patients with intrahepatic stones had a significantly longer duration of symptoms, a higher frequency of previous biliary surgery but a lower rate of preoperative diagnosis. Surgical resection was the treatment of choice and was performed in 18 of 33 patients with cholangiocarcinoma and stones and in nine of 18 with intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma alone. Significantly inferior 5-year survival rates were found in patients with hepatolithiasis: two of 32 versus four of 14 for all cases and two of 17 versus four of nine for resectable cases (P<0·05).

Conclusion These survival differences may be attributed to delayed diagnosis, lower diagnostic rate and relatively fewer curative resections in the patients with stone-containing cholangiocarcinoma.