Emergent pathology

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Author: Mikael Häggström [notes 1]
This article is written specifically for new pathology trainees.

Memorization-worthy:[notes 2] Information relating to emergent pathology is often not conveniently and timely looked up when needed because of the need for a fast report.

Frozen sections

Even new pathology trainees may end up being the first responders to frozen sections.


Prepare at least the following:

  • Finding out which senior to call for help if responding to a frozen section. A fairly new pathology trainee should generally not independently make a report to the referring physician without having at least consulted with a senior, and therefore the diagnostics of frozen section slides is not included in this section. In the meantime, ensure that you have a working smartphone available, and know beforehand who to contact whenever you are at risk of being responsible for a frozen section, so that you can perform micrography of the slide in case and send it to the senior if that person can not be physically present within an acceptable time.
Main sites of metastases for some common cancer types. Primary cancers are denoted by "...cancer" and their main metastasis sites are denoted by "...metastases".[1]
  • If possible, look up pertinent medical histories of potential cases that may appear as frozen sections or other forms of intraoperative consultations. For example, surgery departments may have schedules of patients for the day that you will cover frozen sections. On such lists, types of surgeries that often come as intraoperative consultations mainly include potentially malignant skin excisions, lung excisions (larger than biopsies), ovarian tumors, and samples from other common metastasis sites (lungs, liver, brain, bone). The most important details to note are:
  • Previous biopsies. For expected excisions from common metastasis sites, look thoroughly for any past cancer diagnoses. Note the pathologic diagnoses of the biopsies((, as well as the collection dates and accession numbers.))
  • Tumor sizes where applicable(, and whether the estimation was from imaging or microscopy).
  • Make sure you have a working microtome. Switch its blade if you are not certain it has had limited use.
  • Prepare at least as many chucks as you think you will need according to any surgery schedule (or at least 3 of preferably various sizes).
  • Inspect the H&E staining containers and refill if necessary.
  • Ensure that you have frozen section medium, as well as cover slips and mounting fluid.

Suspected malignant skin excisions

While most frozen sections can be predicted from schedules of the operating room and thereby be looked up beforehand, suspected malignant skin excisions often come from outside the main surgery department, even more indicating memorization of how to handle them.

Tissue selection
Tissue selection from suspected malignant skin lesions, by lesion size:[2][notes 3]
<4 mm 4 - 8 mm 9 - 15 mm
Tissue selection from skin excision with less than 4 mm suspected malignant lesion.png Tissue selection from skin excision with 4-8 mm suspected malignant lesion.png Tissue selection from skin excision with 9-15 mm suspected malignant lesion.png

In table above, each top image shows recommended lines for cutting out slices to be submitted for further processing. Bottom image shows which side of the slice that should be put to microtomy. Dashed lines here mean that either side could be used. Further information: Gross processing of skin excisions

Other frozen sections

Although these are generally given on schedules of the operating room, any pathologist may end up suddenly covering for another one, and subsequently be presented with the frozen section case without having had the time to look it up beforehand.


  1. For a full list of contributors, see article history. Creators of images are attributed at the image description pages, seen by clicking on the images. See Patholines:Authorship for details.
  2. Further information on what is memorization-worthy or not: Learning pathology
  3. The excision example shows a superficial basal cell carcinoma.

Main page


  1. A list of included entries and references is found on main image page in Wikimedia Commons: Commons:File:Metastasis sites for common cancers.svg#Summary
  2. There are many variants for the processing of skin excisions. These examples use aspects from the following sources: ". Ochsner J 5 (2): 22–33. 2003. PMID 22826680. PMC: 3399331. Archived from the original. . 
    - With a "standard histologic examination" that, in addition to the lesion, only includes one section from each side along the longest diameter of the specimen.
    - It also shows an example of circular coverage, with equal coverage distance in all four directions.
    - The entire specimen may be submitted if the risk of malignancy is high.