How to Read Your Pathology Report

Cancer treatments are becoming more and more targeted, so an accurate and comprehensive analysis by a pathologist is critical in determining the best approach. Using advanced technology like flow cytometry, which pinpoints genetic markers, our team of skilled scientists analyzes large numbers of specimens and reviews a high volume of cases. This level of expertise allows them to identify even slight variances, which may distinguish a highly treatable cancer from one that is more aggressive.

Pathology at Roswell Park

Our Cancer Talk blog shares more about how to read your pathology report, along with questions to ask your doctor.

To ensure you are well informed on your cancer’s distinguishing characteristics, here is a breakdown of some of the information you will find on your pathology report:

Specimen(s): From which organ(s) was/were the tissue sample(s) taken.

Pre-operative diagnosis: Testing is being done to confirm whether or not the patient has this type of cancer.

Gross description: What the tumor sample looks like to the naked eye: size, weight, and color. This is often just as important as what is seen under a microscope.

Diagnosis: What the microscope revealed about the tissue sample. Is it cancerous? If so, how different from normal cells are the cancerous cells?

This section will also indicate whether the outer edges of the tissue sample show evidence of cancer. If so, the sample has positive margins and additional surgery may be needed to remove remaining cancerous tissue. A sample with no cancer cells at the outer edges has negative, clear, or free margins, which indicates that all the cancer has been removed. In certain circumstances, the tumor may be close to a margin. The distance from the margin is measured and reported.

Additional testing may be required to pinpoint a sub-type of cancer – the results of additional testing are listed in a second report called an addendum.