Hematology / Hematopathology
What are Hematology and Hematopathology?
Hematology and hematopathology are medical sub-specialties focusing on blood and blood-forming organs. Most blood cells are made in the bone marrow and develop into one of three types:
- Red blood cells carry oxygen to our tissues, giving our body energy.
- White blood cells help fight infection.
- Platelets help stop bleeding.
Once the blood cells have formed, they are contained in a liquid called plasma.
Hematopathology studies the cellular components of blood, body fluids, bone marrow, and the tissues that use blood cells. focusing on the disorders and diseases that affect them.
Doctors specializing in hematology are called hematologists, while those specializing in interpreting hematology lab work are called hematopathologists. Both have highly specialized training in diagnosing the diseases and conditions that affect blood and blood-forming organs, including:
- Blood cancers (leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma)
- Blood clots
- Coagulation disorders (clotting)
- Immunodeficiency related conditions
- Multiple myeloma
- Myelodysplastic syndromes
- Myeloproliferative disorders
- Sickle cell anemia
- Some bleeding and clotting disorders
- Von Willebrand disease
What’s the Difference Between a Hematologist and a Hematopathologist?
A hematologist is often an internist or pediatrician with additional years of study and training in hematology. They typically work directly with patients and diagnose and manage diseases of the blood. They frequently treat patients with cancer. Your primary doctor may refer you to a hematologist if your blood tests show you have abnormal coagulation (clotting) or blood cell counts.
A hematopathologist is typically board-certified in anatomical and clinical pathology with additional training in hematopathology. They study the origins of diseases to diagnose them. Hematopathologists work in a laboratory to find the source and cause of a patient’s disease in order to recommend the best treatment.
What Types of Tissues Do Hematologists and Hematopathologists Study?
Some of the tissues that hematologists and hematopathologists study include:
- Bone marrow
- Cerebrospinal fluid
- Hematolymphoid lesions
- Lymphoid tissues
- Thymus gland
- Whole blood
How Do Pathologists Identify Conditions and Diseases of the Blood?
Hemopathologists and hematopathologists use microscopes and other specialized tools to examine blood, bone marrow, and other tissue samples. They have extensive schooling and training to identify cancers, degenerative diseases, infectious diseases, immune system disorders, tumors, and more.
If the microscopic examination doesn’t provide clear answers, pathologists are experts in other testing techniques that may provide more information. Some methods and tools they use include:
- Stains. Chemicals or stains can be applied to tissue samples to highlight signs of disease or cell abnormalities.
- Direct immunofluorescence. A special type of staining that helps identify autoimmune skin diseases.
- Frozen tissue. Some signs of disease are better seen on frozen tissue.
- Immunohistochemistry. This technique uses the body’s own antibodies to help identify the interaction between the antibodies and antigens triggering the immune system.
- Electron microscopy. A special type of microscope that uses a beam of electrons instead of light, which allows pathologies to examine cell structures not otherwise visible.
- Flow cytometry. A technique of analyzing the identity and quantity of a type of cell or particle. Samples are suspended in fluid and passed through different light sources, lenses, and filters to generate wavelength data.
What Do Results Look Like?
The results of a pathological examination are documented in a biopsy or pathology report, which includes information like:
- A diagnosis
- A description of the tissue sample
- A microscopic description of the disease process discovered
- Clinical information that helped support the diagnosis
- Additional information to help determine treatment
- If cancer is found, it may also contain detailed information about the cancer
- Comments from the pathologist
The report is sent to the treating doctor, who will discuss the results with the patient.