How to read your pathology report

A pathologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and classification of diseases by looking at tissue or cells under a microscope, and by providing direction for the performance of, and assisting in the interpretation of, medical laboratory tests.

To diagnose diseases such as cancer, a sample of tissue called a biopsy, or sometimes a resection of an entire tumor, may be removed during surgery.  This may occur in a hospital or your doctor’s office.  After the specimen has been removed, it is sent to the laboratory to be examined by the pathologist.

It is the task of the pathologist to determine what kind of disease process is present.  For conditions such as a tumor, the pathologist determines whether that mass is benign or malignant (cancer), and if cancer, the exact cell type, grade, and stage of the cancer, or whether the surgeon was able to remove it all.  In some cases, the pathologist also performs special studies such as molecular biomarker analysis, or evaluates for genetic alterations that may guide targeted therapy for a specific cancer.


The College of American Pathologists has developed a resource to help you understand your pathology report.

How to read your path report