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Understanding Pathology Reports

A pathology report is a detailed written explanation or description of test results that becomes a permanent part of your medical record.

The pathologist prepares this report after:

  • Testing body fluid, cell, and tissue samples
  • Analyzing the results
  • Arriving at a diagnosis

What You'll Find in a Pathology Report

Pathology reports generally include:

  • Patient information
  • A brief medical history
  • Tissue descriptions
  • A diagnosis
  • Results of ancillary or special tests, if applicable

Detailed descriptions of your sample

The pathology report will include descriptions of:

  • The fresh tissue sample, including its:
    • Size
    • Weight
    • Appearance
  • The sample after processing - how it appears on a glass slide when viewed with a microscope
  • Whether the tissue sample is normal or abnormal and may include the words:
    • Benign for a normal finding
    • Malignant for a cancerous growth

In the case of cancer, the pathology report may include:

  • The results of tests designed to determine the site of origin of the cancer, such as the lung or breast
  • What type of cancer is present (for instance, whether it is melanoma, breast carcinoma, or lymphoma)

Other tests can determine if the cancer has spread or provide information about prognosis.

Your doctor will use this information to manage your disease and create a treatment plan.

Receiving and Understanding The Results of Your Pathology Report

The pathology report may be ready in as soon as two or three days after the biopsy is taken. If additional testing of the tissue is necessary, the report may take longer to complete (between seven and 14 days).

Pathology reports are written in technical language using many medical terms.

Your doctor can explain any words or information that you don’t understand. He or she can also put the contents of the pathology report into perspective by explaining what the test results and diagnosis mean for you and your treatment plan.

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Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

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