Brain Cancer Pathology

Why the Roswell Park Doctor You Never Meet May Be the Most Important Person on Your Care Team

Our patients interact with many doctors during treatment, but rarely do they meet the specialist who plays a critical role in the outcome: the neuropathologist who diagnoses their brain tumor or abnormality by analyzing tissue samples. Precise diagnosis is what drives patient decisions and therapy.

With more than 120 brain tumor types and disorders, if the pathology is wrong, everything that follows will likely be incorrect as well. About 75 percent of the information used to make treatment decisions at Roswell Park comes from the Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine. Because brain tumors account for fewer than 5 percent of all cancers, most pathologists see very few of them over the course of their careers. That’s why a specialized pathologist, called a neuropathologist, is best equipped to recognize and interpret what shows up under the microscope, and to contribute to an effective treatment plan.

By analyzing tumor tissue obtained from a biopsy or following resection (surgical removal of the lesion), our neuropathologist, one of only 400 in the U.S., identifies the specific tumor type, classifies it and determines its World Health Organization (WHO) grade, which indicates how aggressive the tumor is likely to be. The cells will also be tested for tumor markers or chromosome abnormalities, which can help predict whether a specific brain tumor patient is likely to respond to chemotherapy.

In some cases, a full diagnosis can depend on even more testing. At those times, it’s reassuring to know that Roswell Park’s Pathology Department is the largest and most comprehensive in the region, supporting your neuropathologist with a staff of more than 200 experts.

Second Opinion Game Changer: Roswell Park pathologists report that over 10 percent of patients receive a change in diagnosis after coming to Roswell Park from another care facility.

Precise Diagnoses

Roswell Park boasts one of only 400 practicing board-certified neuropathologists in the United States — experts with highly specific training and experience in the diagnosis of diseases of the central nervous system.

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. Learn how to read your pathology report.

Second Look, World of Difference

A second opinion can be both helpful and reassuring, and is especially important with brain tumors and disorders.

If you would like a second opinion by an Roswell Park brain team expert, you are under no obligation to receive your care here. You may continue to see your current doctor, and we are happy to discuss and share information.

When Should You Seek a Second Opinion?

It’s always a good idea, but especially important if:

  • Your physician or pathologist has not provided you with a full, clear explanation of your pathology report, in a language you understand.
  • Your physician tells you that you don’t need a second opinion. A good doctor will suggest that you get another opinion if there are questions about your treatment or diagnosis. If your physician is offended, find a new doctor.
  • Your physician wants you to have surgery tomorrow. Almost nothing in the world of cancer care requires that kind of immediacy, except patients with acute leukemia; cases in which a tumor is compressing a vital structure, such as the heart or large blood vessels; or certain other rare conditions.

If you’re still not sure whether to ask for a second opinion, ask yourself:

  • Am I confident in the diagnosis or treatment options I’ve been given?
  • Am I comfortable with my treating physician?
  • Has my physician clearly explained all treatment options — not just the ones he or she prefers?
  • Are there clinical research studies offering new treatments for my cancer?
  • Was my cancer diagnosed at an office or community hospital setting or in a comprehensive cancer center?
  • Does my insurance plan require a second opinion? If not, what type of coverage does it provide for second opinions?

To arrange for a second opinion, call 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or fill out the online Become a Patient Form.