One could make an argument that pathologists are the most important member of the cancer care team. Even if you don't want to take it that far, it is certainly fair to say that everything about cancer treatment and care flows from their work. If they don't get it right, nothing will be right.
I have a friend who is a pathologist and she once told me this: "Each time I start to look at a slide that may be diagnosing cancer, I pause and say a prayer that I get this right." She always does.
Most of us don't think about these doctors much, and probably don't think too much about our pathology reports after the initial diagnosis and treatment planning. Between surgery and the path report results being available, we are always very anxious. Once the results are in, almost no matter what they are, things will start to feel a bit more manageable. Having a plan is always better than waiting in limbo.
This is an introduction to a piece (or a podcast) from ASCO about the role of pathologists in cancer care:
Spotlight On: Pathologists
March 17, 2015 · Amber Bauer, ASCO staff
If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you will interact with a number of different members
of the health care team at various times during treatment. When you walk into a doctor’s
office, hospital, or cancer center, you may encounter nurses, physician assistants, social
workers, doctors—the list goes on. In this series, we talk with some of these health care
professionals to learn more about their jobs and the role they play in providing high-quality
A pathologist is a doctor who specializes in interpreting laboratory tests and evaluating
cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose disease. Although you might never meet your
pathologist, he or she plays a vital role in your diagnosis and treatment planning.
To find out what goes on behind the scenes and in the laboratory, I talked with Carey
August, MD, Director of Anatomic Pathology at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center,
and Chanjuan Shi, MD, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Pathology,
Microbiology, and Immunology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Q: How would you describe the role of pathologists in the cancer care team?
Dr. Chanjuan Shi (CS): Pathologists are indispensable to the cancer care team. We provide a comprehensive and final diagnosis to enable clinicians to develop definitive cancer treatments and sometimes estimate the likely course of a cancer. In addition, pathologists are now able to detect genetic changes in most cancers, allowing oncologists to recommend and/or prioritize new targeted cancer therapies for patients.
Dr. Carey August (CA): Since no two people with cancer are alike, treatment plans demand very detailed information in order to apply evidence-based guidelines. Pathologists must ensure that all of these details are accurately addressed. As physicians who are laboratory professionals, we develop and implement newer and better ways to provide diagnoses and the information necessary for cancer care. Laboratories are held to rigorous standards, and pathologists make sure that these are met.
Our role in patient care doesn't end with a diagnosis. We collaborate with other members of the cancer care team to find the most effective ways to evaluate people with cancer and, at the same time, the least costly to the patient in terms of discomfort, time, and money. Our goal, as key members of the cancer care team, is to share our expertise in formulating the best plan possible for each patient.
Read more: http://www.cancer.net/blog/2015-03/spotlight-pathologists