The Pathologist's Role in Cancer Diagnosis and Care

February 10, 2011 Richard Whitten

Pathologists are physicians who specialize in diagnosing and characterizing disease through scientific analysis of a patient’s organs, tissue, blood and body fluids.

A pathologist is responsible for a person’s initial cancer diagnosis including:

  • Exactly what type it is
  • What its particular features are (contained in the pathology report)
  • What the prognosis is

Pathologists also manage hospitals and private laboratories. Occasionally we do autopsies but most pathologists are not forensic pathologists, like those portrayed on television shows such as CSI.

The life changing diagnosis of cancer usually starts with symptoms that a primary care provider suspects may be cancer, such as a lump or tumor, weight loss, severe fatigue, blood in the stool, changed blood test results, etc. A biopsy of the tumor is taken by a surgeon or radiologist and sent to the pathologist who analyzes it and decides (through a series of scientific tests) what it is.

Understanding your pathology report
The pathology report contains several things:

  • The overall diagnosis (e.g., breast carcinoma, infiltrating ductal type)
  • Descriptions of all features including:
      * Subtype
      * Degree of spread
      * Invasion of tumor into blood or lymphatic vessels
      * Growth rate
      * Grade or how much the tumor resembles its normal tissue of origin, stage, etc.

These detailed reports are written primarily for other doctors (which is why pathologists are sometimes called the Doctor’s Doctor). However, our group of CellNetix pathologists are happy to take calls from patients to help them understand the reports. In fact, I highly recommend patients ask their primary healthcare provider for a copy of their pathology report.

Every line item in that report is critical for your personalized treatment plan. In fact, more than 70 percent of the decisions made about your health care involve pathology and your lab report. Source. Knowing the details of the diagnosis helps when talking to other healthcare providers, family and friends and when searching the internet for information.

CellNetix office phone numbers:

  • Aberdeen 360.537.0562
  • Centralia 360.827.6800
  • Olympia 360.493.7330
  • Seattle 206.386.2676
Previous Article
A Mom Shares Lessons Learned as a Caregiver for Her Son
A Mom Shares Lessons Learned as a Caregiver for Her Son

No More Articles