The Value of Our Team
Pathologists are indispensable to the cancer care team. They provide a comprehensive and final diagnosis to enable clinicians to develop definitive cancer treatments and sometimes estimate the likely course of a cancer. In addition, pathologists are now able to detect genetic changes in most cancers, allowing oncologists to recommend and/or prioritize new targeted cancer therapies for patients.
Since no two people with cancer are alike, treatment plans demand very detailed information in order to apply evidence-based guidelines. Pathologists must ensure that all of these details are accurately addressed. As physicians who are laboratory professionals, they develop and implement newer and better ways to provide diagnoses and the information necessary for cancer care. Laboratories are held to rigorous standards, and pathologists make sure that these are met.
The pathologist’s role in patient care doesn’t end with a diagnosis. They collaborate with other members of the cancer care team to find the most effective ways to evaluate people with cancer and, at the same time, the least costly to the patient in terms of discomfort, time, and money. Their goal, as key members of the cancer care team, is to share their expertise in formulating the best plan possible for each patient.
The pathologist determines the precise type and severity (stage) of the cancer and may also work with other members of your care team to recommend a treatment strategy that could include observation, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of these approaches.
A pathologist’s work typically begins after a surgeon has taken a biopsy, removed a tumor or sampled lymph nodes to determine if the cancer has spread. The pathologist must conduct a detailed study on the tumor’s location, size and whether it was removed in its entirety. Preparing slides from the tissue is a painstaking and detailed process. Before the pathologist prepares the slides, water is removed from the tissue sample with an alcohol solution and replaced with wax, so it can be sliced into pieces that are 4 or 5 microns thick—less than a 10th the width of a human hair. The pathologist typically processes dozens of slides, to help determine an accurate and thorough diagnosis, and to allow for further testing.
The slides are then treated with stains that make the nuclei a blue-purple shade and the cytoplasm pinkish. Under the microscope, the shape, arrangement and details of the cell reveal whether it is healthy or malignant