Beyond Diagnosis: What Your Pathology Report Means for Your Future
After receiving a biopsy on a breast tumor, you typically receive a pathology report, which describes and diagnoses the tissue taken from your body to determine if it’s cancerous or not. It can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks from the time of your biopsy to complete the diagnostic tests required to create the final pathology report. A trained pathologist will write the report, as they have the specific qualifications to identify diseases within tissues. If cancer is found, the report will detail how much it has progressed, whether it has spread to other places in the body, and provide recommended next steps for treatment.
The Role of Pathology Reports in Your Healthcare
Understanding your pathology report is crucial for you to be able to process your diagnosis, make informed decisions about your health, and receive the care you need. To enhance your understanding of your health, the report is designed to provide details that go beyond the basics of your diagnosis. For example, the pathology report may include the following sections and details:
- The exact anatomical location where the tissue is from
- The surgical method used to obtain the tissue
- The gross description, which is a visual account of the specimen’s appearance to the naked eye
- The microscopic description, which describes how the specimen looks under a microscope compared to other cells
- The tissue’s molecular characteristics, especially any unusual features
- The margin status, which reveals how much of the normal tissue surrounding the tumor or abnormal tissue was removed
- The final diagnosis, if available
- The stage and severity of cancer, if identified
- Tumor grade, which details how aggressive any cancerous cells are
- Lymph node status, which is linked closely with the prognosis of the disease
Finally, the comment section of the pathology report will provide any additional details about your individual situation, diagnosis, relevant clinical history, and previous or impending test results.
Understanding Pathology Terminology
Your breast cancer pathology report may be full of terminology you aren’t familiar with. It can be especially overwhelming when you’re anxious to get answers about your health. Here are some key terms to understand:
- Etiology – The cause of a disease
- Biopsy – The medical process of removing a tumor or abnormal piece of tissue from your body so it can be tested for disease
- Block – The tissue that’s been removed during a biopsy, sliced into thin layers, and placed on a glass slide to be examined under a microscope is called a “tissue block.”
- DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ) – Abnormal cells inside a milk duct in the breast indicating one of the earliest forms of noninvasive breast cancer
- LCIS (Lobular Carcinoma In Situ) – Abnormal cells in the breast lobules that aren’t cancerous but could indicate an increased risk of developing breast cancer
- IDC (Invasive Ductal Carcinoma) – Cancerous cell growth that starts in the milk ducts and spreads to nearby breast tissue
- ILC (Invasive Lobular Carcinoma) – An invasive form of cancerous cell growth that started in the breast lobules and has spread beyond the original tumor site
- Benign – A cluster of cells that seems abnormal but is not cancerous
- Malignant – Cancerous cells that can spread uncontrollably
- Margins – The area of normal tissue surrounding the tumor that gets removed out of caution
- Grade – A measure of how aggressive cancerous cells are on a scale of 1 to 4
- Metastasis – Indicates a spread of cancerous cells to a distant region of the body
Translating Pathology Results into Treatment Decisions
The pathology report is a crucial bridge between understanding your diagnosis and making essential and possibly urgent decisions about your course of treatment. When your pathology report is available, your care team will discuss the findings with you, help you process the results, interpret what it means for your situation, provide you with an opportunity to ask questions, and recommend next steps for treatment.
If your breast tumor is determined to be benign, it’s non-cancerous and doesn’t pose an immediate threat to your health. However, follow-up care is still critical to ensure your tumor doesn’t grow and cause complications over time. Sometimes, benign tumors can compress other internal body parts and require additional surgical intervention. Some patients also opt to undergo further procedures on benign tumors for cosmetic reasons. Your specific care plan will be determined by your individual health history, lifestyle, and the size, location, and type of tumor.
If your pathologist identifies your breast tumor as malignant, that means it is cancerous and poses the risk of spreading further throughout your body (metastasis). Malignant tumors can spread cancerous cells rapidly, so immediate treatment is required. The earlier breast cancer is identified, the more treatment options you’ll have available. Sometimes, localized cancer can be removed with surgery or radiotherapy. More advanced cancer is likely to require chemotherapy or immunotherapy.
Monitoring and Follow-Up after Pathology Results
Continue to monitor the affected area for changes after receiving your pathology results. Your care team will help you schedule necessary follow-up appointments, which may include physical exams, additional biopsies, or imaging tests. Adhering to the check-up schedule set by your doctor is crucial for managing your condition, ensuring your tumor remains stable, and detecting any other abnormalities early. Remember that your diet, exercise habits, stress levels, and mental health will also influence your journey and must be prioritized to optimize your overall health outcomes.