Pathology and Immunology

Patient Information

What Pathologists Do

Most individuals think pathologists conduct only autopsies. Although this is one of the things that pathologists do, autopsies make up only a fraction of daily work for most pathologists.

There are two major divisions in pathology: Clinical Pathology and Anatomic Pathology. Although most pathologists are certified to do both, some are certified and perform one or the other.

Clinical Pathology

Clinical pathology is the service that handles most blood, urine, toxicology, and infectious disease tests in addition to blood banking (blood transfusion).

Anatomic Pathology

Anatomic pathology has three main divisions: Autopsy pathology, cytopathology, and surgical pathology.

Autopsy Pathology. Autopsy pathology is the post-mortem examination generally aimed at identifying causes of death if not known.

Cytopathology. Cytopathology involves examination of cells scraped of or removed from body surfaces or cavities, and cells removed from deeper locations in the body using specialized needles. By examining such cells, pathologists can determine whether a mass in the neck, for example, is cancerous thyroid gland, or a lump in the breast is cancerous, and so on.

Surgical Pathology. Surgical pathologists examine and make a diagnosis based on small pieces of tissue removed from patients in an outpatient facility or surgery center or a doctor's clinic (biopsy), or larger tissues or organs removed in a hospital operating room. Pathologists, for example, are called upon by surgeons while the patient is undergoing surgery to examine tissues to determine whether a lump is cancerous or not cancerous, what kind of cancer, and was it removed in its entirety or did any cancer cells, not visible to the doctor's eye, are left in the patient. The surgeon, based on the pathologist's opinion makes a decision then about what to do next while the patient is still on the operating table. Pathologists also make a diagnosis to whether a stomach ulcer is caused by cancer, aspirin, germs, viruses or other causes. They also make a diagnosis to whether a skin reaction is caused by allergy or infection, whether a large prostate is cancerous.