What are Pathology tests used for?
Diagnosing a condition
Diagnosing an illness isn't always straightforward. Some
conditions have similar symptoms and pathology tests to help
with the diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Giving a prognosis of an illness
For serious conditions like cancer, it's important
to determine what stage the cancer has reached to give an
indication of severity, treatment choices and, in cases of a
terminal disease, the most appropriate palliative care.
Pathology tests can help your doctor monitor the
progression of a condition and determine whether it's getting
better or worse.
Screening for disease
The aim of screening is to pick up a disease in the early
stages so it can be treated or prevented before the person is even
aware they have it, or before it develops into something more
serious. Screening is used for various reasons. It can help
with the early detection of conditions such as cancer, or help
determine the chances of carrying inherited or genetic
What happens to my sample?
When a sample is taken within County Durham and Darlington, it
is passed to our Pathology Specimen transport which takes it to the
appropriate laboratory. Your sample will then be processed by the
Sometimes samples have to be sent to more than one
speciality laboratory. How the sample is stored depends on
the type - some samples need to be kept frozen at all
times, some need to be delivered within the hour or in special
containers if there is a risk of infection, while others can be
sent by post.
As soon as your specimen arrives in pathology, it is assigned a
pathology number so laboratory staff can keep track of it.
How your sample is handled by pathologists and
scientists depends on the type of tests being done and on the
How long does it take to get my
This depends on the type of test that needs to be done. More
than 90% of samples arriving at Biochemistry and Haematology
labs will be reported on the same day. There is a very high
use of automation and robotics within these specialities.
Other samples require more time and resources, such as when
tissue needs to be examined under the microscope. This can take
several days, depending on the tests that need to be
done. Similarly, if a sample needs to be cultured (growing bacteria
in petri dishes), a result cannot be reported until the culture has
had time to grow and be identified.
Other reasons why you may have to wait longer for your
How do I know my lab has given the right
We make considerable efforts to ensure our results are correct.
Like other industries, we undertake quality control measures and
compare our results both internally and with other laboratories
undertaking the same type of test.
This latter process is called external quality assurance, or
EQA. Most EQA is organised on a national basis, so laboratories can
compare their results with others - up to about 200 for some
tests - and with laboratories using the same test methods
and equipment. If a laboratory performs poorly, the EQA
process will include contacting the laboratory, identifying the
problem, and helping them overcome any issues. If this fails to
generate improvements, the organiser will report the matter to the
Royal College of Pathologists for them to take action.
Is pathology a lab test?
Pathology is a consultative service provided to you and your
doctor - it is not simply a laboratory test. The tests a
pathologist uses are his or her tools, but ultimately the decision
regarding a particular diagnosis is based on the pathologist's
expertise and training in the interpretation of your biopsy or
What happens after I get my test results?
Your doctor will use the information from our analysis, along
with the results of other tests you may have had, to choose the
most appropriate treatment for you.
How are pathology labs regulated?
The system of Clinical Pathology Accreditation is run
by the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS) and inspects
laboratories on an annual basis. This is a very thorough review of
the processes in each pathology discipline undertaken by that
laboratory, and is done to international standards (ISO 15189
Medical Laboratories). This approach applies to all laboratories,
whether they are part of the NHS or private.
What is a pathologist?
A pathologist is a physician who has completed residency
training in anatomic and/or clinical pathology. Pathology is the
identification of diseases and disorders using a microscope and
other instrumentation to perform tests on tissue and blood
What does a pathologist do?
A pathologist uses a microscope and often other tests to examine
tissue biopsies and blood samples. The pathologist then combines
clinical information (observations your doctor has made about your
signs and symptoms) with microscopic observations of your biopsy
and tests performed on your blood sample to make a diagnosis.
What is a biopsy?
A biopsy is a sample of tissue. For certain suspected diseases
and conditions, doctors will remove a small sample of tissue for
analysis by a pathologist. This tissue is typically treated using
special stains and/or other chemicals so it can be examined under a
microscope and/or using molecular and other tests to learn more
about the biology of the tissue. Biopsies are the single most
important way to diagnose certain diseases, such as cancer.
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