Why You Might Want To Meet Your Pathologist

August 15, 2013 Richard Whitten

 “I wasn’t there when he fell,” Ms. X said to me, holding back the tears. She was out of town visiting friends when her husband slipped on ice on their front walk and hit his head. She’d come to meet with me to look at the slides and photos of the autopsy I’d performed.

Her husband died of a delayed subdural hematoma and intracerebral hemorrhage. I showed her where the hemorrhages were, explained which parts of the brain were affected and described how devastating these findings were. There was no possibility of recovery. It was then she realized she didn’t need to hold onto the guilt of not being with her husband when he was injured. A great burden was lifted. She still sends a card every Christmas.

Helping You Understand Test Results

Another young woman came to look at her breast cancer slides. She was an artist. It’d been many months since her mastectomy and she wasn’t getting past the upset and hopeless feelings. I showed her the tumor – quite well differentiated. I showed her the hormone receptor stains – strongly positive. I showed her the margins – clearly negative. Most of her detailed pathologic findings portended a good prognosis.

I’m sure she’d been told of these results, but they hadn’t sunk in. Seeing them, having me explain how we analyzed the tissues and walking through the lab had a strong impact. I sent her dozens of photomicrographs of the tumor for future artistic inspiration.

Patients Always Welcome to Meet with Pathologists

These are still rare encounters with patients. Pathologists are often unseen and unrecognized physicians. But, we play a significant role in patient care. We encourage clinicians to tell patients they’re welcome to visit us, go over their pathology report and slides and ask us our perspective of these cancers.

I see patients as part of cancer survivor programs and find they often harbor misconceptions about their diseases, don’t know what kind of cancer they have, or even what cancer is. Sometimes, we have roundtable discussions groups of survivors about their individual cancers and pathology reports – always a popular activity.

Ask for Copies of Your Pathology Reports

Cancer patients should have copies of their pathology reports since they precisely define which type of tumor they have – which determines what type of treatment they need, helps them when talking to relatives, surfing the web, or going to a new doctor in a different town.

Information is power. It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of a cancer diagnosis.

What Pathologists Do

Pathologists do more than diagnose cancers. Anything that’s cut out of your body, scrapped off, aspirated, biopsied, excreted, coughed up, cultured, or drawn (like blood) is analyzed by pathologists and their laboratory staff. Medical laboratories are managed by pathologists. We translate cutting-edge molecular biological information for our clinical colleagues. We set up the most appropriate testing machinery for our particular locations. We suggest the most appropriate set of tests to address a given problem.

It’s said that 75% of medical decisions are based on laboratory test results. Clinicians should know their pathologists well so there’s no misunderstanding in test result interpretation. Local is usually better.

Your Pathologist Would Love to Know You

We’re highly trained physicians with a unique perspective on disease. Come meet with us. You’ll learn a lot – and it will mean a great deal to us. Seeing the person behind the cells reminds us why we do this job. The name and phone number of the pathologist who read your case is on the bottom of our reports.

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