How to Read a Pathology Report

A cancer diagnosis starts with a biopsy - the process of taking suspicious tissue or fluid and studying it under a microscope. A pathologist examines the tissue or fluid and prepares a pathology report. Think of this report as a cancer profile. It provides important details about the location and extent of the tumor, and serves as a guide for you and your doctor to determine the most effective treatment plan.

In the above video, I break down the various sections within a report and the technical terms used to explain your diagnosis. It is always a good idea to request a copy of your pathology report. A thorough reading will give you the facts you need to have an informed discussion with your care team.

If you’re still unclear about the data in your pathology report, consider asking your doctor the following questions:

  • What type of cancer have I been diagnosed with, and where did it start?
  • How large is the tumor?
  • Is the cancer invasive or noninvasive?
  • How fast are the cancer cells growing?
  • What is the grade of the cancer? What does this mean?
  • Has the whole cancer been removed, or is there evidence of cancerous cells at the edges of the sample?
  • Are there cancerous cells in the lymph or blood vessels?
  • What is the stage of the cancer? What does this mean?
  • Does the pathology report specify the tumor characteristics clearly, or should we get another pathologist’s opinion?
  • Do any tests need to be repeated on another sample or in another laboratory?