If You Have Had Surgery or a Biopsy You Have Had a Pathology Report. Did You Read and Understand It?

Prostate Cancer Gleason Grade 3+3=6 of 10. Is that good or bad?

Ever have surgery? If you have, and if any part of you has been removed or biopsied and “sent to the lab,” or if you have even had a Pap smear, you are the proud owner of a pathology report.

I have written a few times about being a pathologist, describing how bits and pieces of the human body are examined and a diagnosis rendered. But what happens next? The reports my colleagues and I generate, filled with descriptions, diagnoses and technical mumbo-jumbo, find their way to your doctor, either in a paper form, or more likely these days, as a digital report in your electronic medical record. Your doctor reads it and acts upon it, or mentally files it away for future reference. And perhaps he or she reviews it with you.

Yes, you certainly have a right to that path report. Your provider may give it to you, or in many instances it is available through an electronic patient portal. If you read the report you may come across a straight forward diagnosis, but you may also run into unfamiliar measurements (is a millimeter a lot or a little?), weasel words of uncertainty (is “consistent with” the same as “suggestive of”?), lengthy protocols (is “cold ischemia time” the same as “cold brewed”?), and double negatives (is it good or bad that residual tumor is “not unlikely”?) Ideally your doctor will review the report with you in enough detail to answer any questions you might have and explain how it will influence your future health care. But that can be time consuming for all involved, and unless you are taking notes, you may not recall everything that you have been told.

Is there a better solution to help you parse your pathology report? You can always send a copy to your friend if he or she happens to be a pathologist. I get a few of those a month and am happy to do a favor for a buddy and give them a “curbstone consultation,” explaining in general terms what their report means and what the implications are. But I rarely tear into the report and explain every word.

Of course you can look things up on the Internet. But to take your report and do a Google search on every medical/technical word is a frustrating endeavor. When you add everything up you would probably have something as unintelligible as instructions on a made in China alarm clock.

One nationally known pathologist has come up with another solution. His reports include a link to an online FAQ page. It can answer some common questions that might relate to your report–or it may not.

Is it really important how well you understand your report? Isn’t enough that your doctor is in the know?  Of course that’s up to you. But knowledge IS power, and when it comes to your health, don’t you want all the power you can get?

I am interested in discovering how many people actually have seen their path/biopsy report and how beneficial it was for them. If you would like to provide that information, please click this link to fill out a very short questionnaire. You will be transferred to SurveyMonkey to complete the survey. Thanks for your participation, and please pass this blog on to friends and family and ask them to fill out the survey too. I would like to gather as much data as possible.



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