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Monday, August 18, 2014 - The best cancer care starts with a foundation of top-quality pathology

The best cancer care starts with a foundation of top-quality pathology

By Paul Simon, D.O.

As medical director of the Pathology Department at CentraState Medical Center, my clinical team and I play a key role in the eventual cancer treatment of all our patients. As a physician specializing in pathology, my role is to interpret lab tests and evaluate cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose cancer. If cancer is found, our diagnostic evaluation will provide the oncologist with information that will be used to develop a treatment plan for the patient, including:

  • Type of cancer and tumor size
  • If the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body (metastasized)
  • Grade of cancer cells (the closer they look to healthy cells, the better the prognosis)
  • Staging of the cancer

Why does some pathology take so long?

If you have undergone a biopsy or other lab test, you know waiting for results often seems to take forever. Depending on the lab performing the tests, routine biopsy results may be ready as soon as a day or two after the sample is received in the laboratory. However, some cases take longer to complete, such as bone and other hard tissues that contain calcium. These tissues must be treated with chemicals to remove minerals so they become soft enough to be properly evaluated. Larger tissue samples may require extended processing for optimal quality, while other specimens, regardless of size, may require additional, specialized testing.

Pathologist findings are often supported by second opinions

During the evaluation process, pathologists frequently consult with each other to re-confirm their diagnoses and get feedback from experts who specialize in a particular type of cancer pathology. This is common when dealing with rare cancers. Pathology experts specialize in almost every organ system ─ digestive, head and neck, breast, bone, reproductive, etc.

Understanding your pathology report

Once the diagnosis is complete, your doctor will receive the test results, interpret them and recommend a treatment plan that will achieve the most positive outcome possible. If the pathology tests performed are not of top quality, results can be skewed and even affect the treatment protocol prescribed by your doctor.

No one expects the patient or family to understand the technical aspects of a pathology report ─ that is where your oncologist comes in. The doctor will spend considerable time studying these reports before meeting with you. When you meet with the doctor to go over your report, ask as many questions as necessary to understand the kind of cancer you are facing and how your cancer team plans to combat it.

The Cancer Center at CentraState Medical Center and the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center became affiliated in 2013 bringing together a leader in community-based cancer care and a nationally recognized cancer prevention and treatment center. This union offers a wealth of top quality cancer experts, groundbreaking treatments, and cutting-edge research and prevention programs to patients from throughout central and northern New Jersey.

CentraState’s Department of Pathology, accredited by the College of American Pathologists, is staffed by board-certified pathologists, certified medical technologists and medical technicians, phlebotomists, clerks and transcriptionists. More than one pathologist evaluates every cancer specimen and specialized pathology experts are regularly called in to consult on more complex cases.

To learn more about The Cancer Center at CentraState or to make an appointment with an oncologic specialist, call 855-411-CANCER.

Dr. Paul Simon is a board-certified anatomic and clinical pathologist. He is the medical director of the Pathology Department at CentraState Medical Center and can be reached at Hackensack Pathology Associates located in Freehold by calling 732-294-2903.