What Is A Pathology Report and Why Does It Take Several Days To Be Finalized?

Question: What is a pathology report and why does it take several days to be finalized?

Answer: After your surgeon removes tissue out of your breast, or in the lymph node area, or whatever part of your body, that tissue is taken to the pathology department for analysis. First they have to process the tissue, then they have to make samples of each piece of tissue along the way and put it on glass slides and look at every single inch and corner of that tissue under the microscope. In addition, a lot of extra tests are done to assess the personality features of the cancer, like "Does the cancer like hormones?" So they'll do an analysis of hormone receptors for both estrogen and progesterone. They also look for gene abnormalities, like the HER2 gene, and sometimes other genes that might become a problem. That test takes extra techniques, special techniques, and may even be sent out of the pathology department to a special laboratory to get the best information.

So the process of going through all the tissue and getting all the answers to the important questions that will help your doctors figure out what is the nature and extent of the problem that we're up against -- it takes a long time; it's a very, very time consuming and important process, so you can't rush it.

I would say that in some hospitals you can get a fast answer on some questions within twenty-four hours. But most hospitals require three to four to five days, sometimes a full week, to get all the answers to the questions about the tissue under the microscope. And then it may take an extra week or two to get the results of the fancy tests that might have been sent out.

Now I know it's frustrating because you've been waiting for your surgery and you're by the phone wanting the answers to your questions and you want to know, "What did they find?", "What am I up against?", "What is the treatment you're going to help me with to get rid of this problem so I never see it again?" So it's a very hard time; the waiting is so brutal. And we know that as doctors, how hard it is to wait when you're living with uncertainty. But this is a situation where patience really pays off because you want your doctors to spend a lot of extra time making sure that you're getting the best analysis of the tissue and that all the tests that are important to get are obtained.

So bear with the situation and also gather the information together. And at breastcancer.org we have a lot of information about how to interpret your pathology reports -- and I use the word 'reports' because it doesn't come back in one report; it does come back in several reports. So you're going to make sure you get all the reports, collect them, and keep them in your own file, so that when you do go from one doctor's office to the next doctor's office, that you have that vital information so that each doctor can work together, and we're all working from the same page.

Next: What are the different types of invasive breast cancers?

Previous: Do All In Situ Breast Cancers Become Invasive, And Do All Invasive Breast Cancers Start Out As In Situ Cancers?