Understanding Your Pathology Report

Last updated: September 2022

Getting a bladder cancer diagnosis can be scary and surprising. The words used by your doctor may be confusing; the medical terms may not be familiar to you.

To fully comprehend what you've been told, it's essential to understand the distinguishing characteristics of your pathology report.

Bladder cancer disease pathology

Pathology is the study of the way a disease works. A pathologist is a medical doctor whose specialty is the study of the anatomical and physiological examination of blood, body fluid,d and tissue for diagnostic purposes.

For a bladder cancer diagnosis, your doctor will take cell samples for the lab to analyze. This is called a specimen. Specimens are obtained through surgery, scoping, or with a needle to withdraw tissue or fluid.

A precise bladder cancer diagnosis by a pathologist will aid your oncologist in recommending a personalized treatment targeted at your cancer's characteristics.

What is a pathology report?

A pathologist prepared lab results to provide information on cells or biopsied tissue examined with a microscope. A pathology report is generally technical and written by physicians for physicians. The report prepared by a pathologist is generally intended for urologists and oncologists.1

What's in a pathology report?

Standard information on all cases generally contains: 2-4

Demographics

  • Patient information
  • Case number
  • Physician contact information
  • Lab information
  • Specimen information

Preoperative diagnosis
What the doctor anticipates the diagnosis to be before the specimen review.

Procedure
The type of procedure used to obtain the specimen sample.

Gross description
Macroscopic information visible to the eye such as weight, size, the color of sample.

Microscopic description (the most technical section)

  • Cell structure (histology): The kind of cancer identified such as: squamous cell, adenocarcinoma, or small cell carcinoma
  • Tumor margins: Whether or not there are cancer cells at the edge tissue sample
  • Depth of invasion: Is the tumor invasive (metastatic) or noninvasive
  • Pathologic stage: (T) Size and location of tumor, (N) whether it has spread to nearby lymph nodes, (M) whether the tumor has spread to other parts of the body
  • Tumor grading: How cancer cells compare to normal healthy cells
  • Special tests or markers
  • Results of special tests performed in the lab to identify unique characteristics

Diagnosis

  • Cancer type
  • Pathologic staging results
  • Other test results

Summary
Details on most important results in a table and indications for treatment options and recovery.

Comments
Description of any issues or concerns with the sample or recommendations for additional testing.

Pathologist signature
The name, date, and signature of the pathologist reviewing the lab results.

Ask for a copy of your report

Get a copy of the pathology report for your records. It may be challenging to understand all the medical terminology, but it is an integral part of the documentation you should keep. Reviewing the report with your doctor will help you better understand your diagnosis and treatment options.

A pathology report can be subjective, based on interpretation. Therefore a diagnosis is not always black and white. It is OK to ask questions and/or to seek a second opinion of the specimen sample.

Understand your specific bladder pathology

Your pathology report can be hard to understand yet useful in helping you better understand what kind of bladder cancer you have and what choices you will need to make in treating it.

Consider some of these questions:

  • What specific type of bladder cancer do I have?
  • Is it invasive or noninvasive and what does that mean?
  • Will I need surgery (or more surgery)?
  • Do I need more tests?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What is my prognosis? Will I get better?
  • How long is the treatment process?

Understanding your pathology report will help you be informed and better prepared for treating your bladder cancer.

Did your doctor take the time to answer your questions and talk through your bladder cancer pathology report? Let us know in the comments below, or share your story.

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