Surgical Pathology 

What Is Surgical Pathology?

Surgical pathology is a medical specialty focusing on the study of tissue samples removed from patients during surgery. A surgical pathologist is a type of doctor with highly specialized training who analyzes these tissues in order to diagnose disease and recommend treatment.

What Do Surgical Pathologists Do?

Surgical pathologists examine tissue samples and use different types of microscopes and other specialized tools for more detailed examinations.

From their examination of the tissue samples, they can help diagnose diseases in various organ systems for physicians in a variety of medical subspecialties. They’re also often consulted to provide a second opinion to confirm an initial diagnosis or recommendation.

If cancer is found, a pathologist can also provide individualized information about the cancer, like its depth and a treatment plan.

What’s The Difference Between a Surgical Pathologist and a Surgeon or Primary Care Provider?

You may see your physician or a surgeon for assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of various health issues. In many cases, they can identify the issue and successfully treat it.

When a cause can’t be identified or when more information is needed, a tissue sample obtained through biopsy or surgical resection can be sent to a surgical pathologist for further study.

Surgical pathologists are experts in diagnosing and providing detailed information about cancers, immunological problems, infectious diseases, and more from tissue samples. They primarily work in a laboratory and directly with other physicians rather than with patients.

What Types of Tissues Do Surgical Pathologists Study?

Surgical pathology is a study of the changes that occur in the body’s tissues due to disease. Surgical pathologists study all types of tissue but may focus on a specific subspecialty, like:

  • Bone and soft tissue
  • Cardiovascular
  • Dermatopathology
  • Head and neck
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Neuropathology
  • Renal
  • And more

Techniques to Identify Skin Conditions

After a surgical pathologist has examined a tissue sample with their own eyes, they may turn to microscopic examination and a variety of specialized techniques, tools, and processes to further investigate its condition.

If the microscopic examination doesn’t provide clear answers, surgical pathologists are experts in other testing techniques that may provide more information. Some methods and tools they may use include:

Stains – Chemicals or stains can be applied to tissue samples to highlight signs of disease or cell abnormalities. Different stains are used to identify causes and markers that identify characteristics of the specimen.

Direct immunofluorescence – A special type of staining that helps identify autoimmune diseases.

Frozen section – A sample can be frozen and examined at once if a diagnosis is needed quickly, like during surgery.

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 pathologists 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. Flow cytometry can measure characteristics like cell size, total DNA, and more.

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 information like how deep the cancer has penetrated the surrounding organ
  • Comments from the surgical pathologist

The report is sent to the treating doctor, who will discuss the results with the patient.

Board-Certified Surgical Pathology

All Pathology Reference Lab pathologists perform Surgical Pathology.