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Understanding a Pathologist’s Role

March 18, 2024

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Pathologists are behind the scenes in the medical setting, but the information they provide is what medical providers rely on to make key decisions for their patients.

“A pathologist comes into play when the clinician has a question about the diagnosis. What is the patient presenting me with?” explains Marie Robert, MD, a Yale Medicine pathologist. “So, they need to take a tissue sample or a blood sample or some other kind of sample, and we come up with the answer.”

For example, with a cancer patient, a pathologist’s first job is to make the diagnosis. A pathologist can also do further testing of a specimen to determine which therapies might work better than others. After a cancer treatment is provided, such as surgery, a pathologist is again involved to provide a report that details whether the cancer was fully removed, including looking at blood vessels and lymph nodes to indicate if it may have spread to other parts of the body.

“The questions patients may have about their report are ones for which they can call their doctor, surgeon, or oncologist,” Dr. Robert says. “We as pathologists know that you don't want a quick answer; you want the right answer. And that means we must be accurate and, more importantly, complete. We get all the information your doctor needs to decide with you what the next best step for your care will be.”