How to learn more about your pathology results

Pathology results have a key role in decisions made about treatment, and many patients want to learn more about their test results. Ask your cancer care team to explain your results in a way that you can understand. Focus on how the results influence your treatment options and help predict your outlook. Some pathologists will help you understand your pathology reports. But others believe that your oncologist, surgeon, primary care doctor, or other doctors are better able to explain the results because they know more about your overall medical situation. Also, doctors who already know you well are often best able to discuss the complex personal issues affected by your pathology results. You may ask for copies of your pathology reports, and you may find it useful to keep a folder or notebook with your pathology, radiology, and other test results.

If you see more doctors in the same hospital where your cancer was diagnosed, the new doctors will have access to the original pathology report and other medical records. If you see consulting doctors (such as for a second opinion) who practice at other facilities, it’s usually necessary to send copies of pathology reports and other medical records before your appointment. In most cases you can just sign a release form to have the copies sent, but it’s a good idea to keep an original copy for yourself to share with the new doctor in case a report is not available. You’ll always want to get back the original for those times you may need it again.

Some cancer centers have a policy requiring that microscope slides of the patient’s cancer be reviewed by the pathologists at their own institution. Some pathology labs will give copies of microscope slides to you if you are going to visit another cancer center for a second opinion or consultation. Other labs mail the slides directly to the consulting cancer center’s pathology department. Again, you’ll probably have to sign forms to get this done.

If you or your doctors have any concerns about your pathology diagnosis, you can have your microscope slides reviewed by a consulting pathologist for a second opinion. Your oncologist or surgeon or the pathologist who first looked at your biopsy or cytology sample can often suggest a consultant with special qualifications in examining samples like yours. Or you can have your slides sent to the pathology department of a medical school or cancer center you have confidence in.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: March 30, 2015 Last Revised: July 30, 2015

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