Pathology for clinicians and medical students

Revision as of 17:52, 3 August 2022 by Mikael Häggström (talk | contribs) (Report interpretation)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Author: Mikael Häggström [note 1]
Important points for everyone who may send specimens to pathology:


Margins of a lobectomy. A stapled portion is being cut off from the bronchial margin, in order to take sections for microscopy from the underlying tissue, which therefore will not reflect the true margin.

If possible, limit the amount of staples in essential diagnostic tissue if there is a limited amount thereof (as staples need to be removed for microtomy, and the removal may tear the tissue). If multiple staples are necessary on a surgical margin (such as both ends of an intestinal segment), keep in mind that the pathologist may have to cut away the entire stapled portion before taking sections, so that the section for microscopy may not reflect the true margin.


Within an hour after removal from the body,[1] tissue samples should generally be placed in vessels with the correct fixing solution, with a volume that allows them to lie freely in the solution.[2] The standard fixation fluid is generally 10% neutral buffered formalin, which is roughly equivalent to 4% formaldehyde.[3]

The main exception to using formalin are mainly: edit

  • Intraoperative consultation. If a specimen has several parts, and you only want intraoperative consultations on some of them, hold the rest back to avoid potential delays. For all fresh specimens, communicate clearly (such as on a requisition form with the specimen) whether intraoperative consultation is requested or not.
  • A tophus or other specimen suspicious for gout versus pseudogout should be sent in alcohol or dry, since formalin will dissolve the crystals.
  • Lymph nodes (or other lymphoid aggregates) with a suspicion of lymphoma, where samples are generally put in a special solution for flow cytometry.
  • Products of conception with a need to take samples for genetic testing.
  • Cytology specimens, which are preferably sent fresh (such as in red top tubes) to be processed within a few hours. If processing may be after a few hours, put tubes on ice, or add 50% alcohol.[4]


When marking the orientation of specimens, including skins, make "air knots", away from the tissue so that the pathologist can remove it without potentially cutting through the tissue.

Orientation of skin excisions should generally be marked when there is a substantial likelihood of needing to excise further in a location where it is inconvenient to perform re-excision in all directions indiscriminately. On the other hand, skin lesions with a mild to moderate suspicion of cancer (such as dark skin focalities in general) can usually be excised unoriented with a relatively small margin, allowing for an extended excision in case the initial pathology shows a malignancy. Orientation can be made with one or two (one short and one long) sutures, designated lateral, medial etc, or o’clock positions. The direction of the margin marked by any suture should not be ambiguous (like on the border between two of them).

Report interpretation

  • "Correlate clinically" essentially means that the pathologist is not sure.

Clinical pathology

  • When ordering vitamin D levels, generally order calcifediol (25-hydroxycholecalciferol) and/or 25-hydroxyergocalciferol, and not calcitriol (also known as 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol). The latter is reserved for specific endocrinology purposes.
  • Don't order HbA1c in a patient who was transfused in the last 3 months, and consider a recent transfusion if a patient has a surprisingly normal HbA1c. In such patients, a fructosamine (glycosylated albumin) level is an alternative that is unaffected by transfusion, and reflects blood sugar control over the previous couple of weeks.[5]


  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.

Main page


  1. . Breast pathology grossing guidelines. UCLA Health. Retrieved on 2021-09-09.
  2. Katarzyna Lundmark, Krynitz, Ismini Vassilaki, Lena Mölne, Annika Ternesten Bratel. Handläggning av hudprover – provtagningsanvisningar, utskärningsprinciper och snittning (Handling of skin samples - Instructions for sampling, cutting and incision. KVAST (Swedish Society of Pathology). Retrieved on 2019-09-09.
  3. . Paraformaldehyde, Formadehyde and Formalin. Duke University. Retrieved on 2019-12-17.
  4. . How to send fluid and make good cytology slides. Tufts University.
  5. Jennifer E. Frank, MD. Post-transfusion HbA1c. ClinicalAdvisor.

Image sources