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Pathology Report FAQs

Updated March 23, 2010

I just had a biopsy on a tumor in my breast, and everyone keeps asking what the pathology report says. I don’t even know what a pathology report is!

I keep looking through my pathology report to find information about my hormone receptor status and HER2 status, but I can’t find it anywhere. Is it possible that they left this information out?

I keep looking through my pathology report to find information about my hormone receptor status and HER2 status, but I can’t find it anywhere. Is it possible that they left this information out?

Q: I just had a biopsy on a tumor in my breast, and everyone keeps asking what the pathology report says. I don’t even know what a pathology report is!

A: When you have tissue removed from a growth or tumor, a doctor looks at it under a microscope to see what the cells in the tumor look like. This is very important for determining the type and stage of the cancer and what the best treatments for it might be. The doctor who does this is called a pathologist, and the report on what the cancer looks like under the microscope is called a pathology report.

Reviewed by Elyse Spatz Caplan, MA

Q: I just got my pathology report, and it’s so full of medical jargon that I don’t understand a thing. Is there a way to figure it out on my own – I’m afraid my doctor won’t have time to explain it all.

A: There is a lot of important medical information in pathology reports that is often difficult to understand. You can go through your pathology report with the help of one of the resources listed below to get an idea of what it says about your tumor. But even after you do that, the best way to get clear answers and a good understanding is to discuss it with your oncologist or breast surgeon.

This is especially important because you and your doctor will most likely use the information in the pathology report to decide what treatment course to follow. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and expect clear answers.

It can be helpful to take a friend or relative with you when you get the pathology report who can listen with you, take notes or even record the conversation (with your doctor's permission).

Here are some resources to help you understand your pathology report:

Reviewed by Elyse Spatz Caplan, MA

Q: I keep looking through my pathology report to find information about my hormone receptor status and HER2 status, but I can’t find it anywhere. Is it possible that they left this information out?

A: Sometimes you might get part of your pathology report while there are still more tests being done on the tissue sample that was removed from the tumor. So it could be that so far, you’ve seen only part of what will eventually be your complete report. It could also be that the lab where your biopsy tissue was examined did not perform all of the recommended tests or that the surgery that was done could not evaluate all features of your cancer.

In either case, do not hesitate to ask your doctor about the information you think is missing from your report. And insist on getting that information to help you decide on a course of treatment. It’s also OK to ask for a second opinion from another pathology lab on your tissue sample. You need to do whatever it takes to be confident that you have all the information you need to make the best treatment decisions for you.

Reviewed by Rick Michaelson, MD

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