Pathology is the study and diagnosis of disease through examination of organs, tissues, bodily fluids, and whole bodies (autopsies).
Pathology also encompasses the related scientific study of disease processes, called general pathology.
Medical pathology is divided into two main branches, anatomical pathology and clinical pathology.
General pathology, also called investigative pathology,
experimental pathology, or theoretical pathology, is a broad and complex
scientific field which seeks to understand the mechanisms of injury to
cells and tissues, as well as the body's means of responding to and
Areas of study include cellular adaptation to injury,
necrosis, inflammation, wound healing, and neoplasia. It forms the
foundation of pathology, the application of this knowledge to diagnose
diseases in humans and animals.
The term ''general pathology'' is also used to describe the
practice of both anatomical and clinical pathology.
Pathologists are doctors who diagnose and characterize
disease in living patients by examining biopsies or bodily fluids. In
addition, pathologists interpret medical laboratory tests to help
prevent illness or monitor a chronic condition.
The vast majority of cancer diagnoses are made by
pathologists. Pathologists examine tissue biopsies to determine if they
are benign or cancerous. Some pathologists specialize in genetic testing
that can, for example, determine the most appropriate treatment for
particular types of cancer.
In addition, a pathologist analyzes blood
samples from a patient's annual physical and alerts their primary care
physician to any changes in their health early, when successful
treatment is most likely. Pathologists also review results of tests
ordered or performed by specialists, such as blood tests ordered by a
cardiologist, a biopsy of a skin lesion removed by a dermatologist, or a
Pap test performed by a gynecologist, to detect abnormalities.
Pathologists work with other doctors, medical specialty
societies, medical laboratory professionals, and health care consumer
organizations to set guidelines and standards for medical laboratory
testing that help improve a patient's medical care and guide treatment,
as well as ensure the quality and safety of domestic and international
Pathologists may also conduct autopsies to investigate
causes of death. Autopsy results can aid living patients by revealing a
hereditary disease unknown to a patient's family.
Pathology is a core discipline of medical school and many
pathologists are also teachers. As managers of medical laboratories
(which include chemistry, microbiology, cytology, the blood bank, etc.),
pathologists play an important role in the development of laboratory
Although the medical practice of pathology grew out
of the tradition of investigative pathology, most modern pathologists
do not perform original research.
Pathology is a unique medical specialty. Pathology touches
all of medicine, as diagnosis is the foundation of all patient care. In
fact, more than 70 percent of all decisions about diagnosis and
treatment, hospital admission, and discharge rest on medical test
Pathologists play a critical role on the patient care team,
working with other doctors to treat patients and guide care. To be
licensed, candidates must complete medical training, an approved
residency program, and be certified by an appropriate body.
In the US,
certification is by the American Board of Pathology or the American
Osteopathic Board of Pathology. The organization of subspecialties
within pathology varies between nations, but usually includes anatomic
pathology and clinical pathology.
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