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Endoscopic papillectomy for adenomas of the ampulla of Vater has been reported and is gaining acceptance as an alternative to surgery in the treatment of early ampullary cancer. However, whether endoscopic treatment is justified as a treatment of choice for early ampullary cancer remains controversial. The aim of the present study was to elucidate the possibility of endoscopic papillectomy as a treatment of early ampullary cancer from the review of pathology of cases treated by surgical resection.Twenty-three cases of early ampullary cancer (m—tumor limited to the mucosa of the ampulla 14; od—tumor that invades Oddi's sphincter, 9) treated by surgical resection from January 1984 to March 2003 were investigated as to the following: (i) macroscopic type, maximum size, and histological type of tumor; (ii) main location and extension of tumor; (iii) prevalence of extension into the lower bile duct or pancreatic duct, and relationship between ductal infiltration and macroscopic type, maximum size, main location, or depth of invasion of tumor; (iv) lymphatic permeation, vascular invasion, and lymph node metastasis; and (v) prognosis.All cases were classified macroscopically as exposed-tumor type or non-exposed-tumor type without ulceration. Extension into the lower bile duct or the pancreatic duct was observed in 43% of the cases. There was no correlation between ductal infiltration and macroscopic type, maximum tumor size, main tumor location, or tumor depth. No lymphatic permeation, vascular invasion, or lymph node metastasis were proven in cases with ampullary cancer confined to the mucosa. In the nine cases with involvement of Oddi's sphincter, lymphatic permeation and lymph node metastasis were observed in two cases and one case, respectively.Endoscopic treatment for early ampullary cancer confined to the mucosa without spread to the bile duct or pancreatic duct is justified as a treatment of choice if detailed histological examination of the resected specimen indicated no invasion beyond its margin.