How long after the tissue sample is taken will the pathology report be ready?
The pathologist sends a pathology report to the doctor within 10 days after the biopsy or surgery is performed. Pathology reports are written in technical medical language. Patients may want to ask their doctors to give them a copy of the pathology report and to explain the report to them. Patients also may wish to keep a copy of their pathology report in their own records (1).
What information does a pathology report usually include?
The pathology report may include the following information (1):
• Patient information: Name, birth date, biopsy date
• Gross description: Color, weight, and size of tissue as seen by the naked eye
• Microscopic description: How the sample looks under the microscope and how it compares with normal cells
• Diagnosis: Type of tumor/cancer and grade (how abnormal the cells look under the microscope and how quickly the tumor is likely to grow and spread)
• Tumor size: Measured in centimeters
• Tumor margins: There are three possible findings when the biopsy sample is the entire tumor:
– Positive margins mean that cancer cells are found at the edge of the material removed
– Negative, not involved, clear, or free margins mean that no cancer cells are found at the outer edge
– Close margins are neither negative nor positive
• Other information: Usually notes about samples that have been sent for other tests or a second opinion
• Pathologist’s signature and name and address of the laboratory
What might the pathology report say about the physical and chemical characteristics of the tissue?
After identifying the tissue as cancerous, the pathologist may perform additional tests to get more information about the tumor that cannot be determined by looking at the tissue with routine stains, such as hematoxylin and eosin (also known as H&E), under a microscope (2). The pathology report will include the results of these tests. For example, the pathology report may include information obtained from immunochemical stains (IHC). IHC uses antibodies to identify specific antigens on the surface of cancer cells. IHC can often be used to:
- Determine where the cancer started
- Distinguish among different cancer types, such as carcinoma, melanoma, and lymphoma
- Help diagnose and classify leukemias and lymphomas (3)
The pathology report may also include the results of flow cytometry. Flow cytometry is a method of measuring properties of cells in a sample, including the number of cells, percentage of live cells, cell size and shape, and presence of tumor markers on the cell surface. Tumor markers are substances produced by tumor cells or by other cells in the body in response to cancer or certain noncancerous conditions.) Flow cytometry can be used in the diagnosis, classification, and management of cancers such as acute leukemia, chronic lymphoproliferative disorders, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (2).
Finally, the pathology report may include the results of molecular diagnostic and cytogenetic studies. Such studies investigate the presence or absence of malignant cells, and genetic or molecular abnormalities in specimens.