A person in a lab coat holding up a microscope slide.

Understanding Your Pathology Report

Last updated: March 2023

Getting an ovarian cancer diagnosis can be scary and surprising. The words used by your doctor may be confusing. The medical terms may not be familiar to you yet.

To better understand what you have been told, it is important to understand your pathology report.

Pathology

Pathology is the study of the way a disease works. A pathologist is a doctor who studies samples of blood, body fluids and tissue to diagnose a disease. As part of an ovarian cancer diagnosis, your doctor will take samples and send these to a lab to analyze. This is called a specimen. Specimens are gathered during a biopsy, surgery, or through a blood test or urine sample and viewed under a microscope.

A more exact ovarian cancer diagnosis by a pathologist will help your oncologist build a treatment plan targeted to your specific cancer.

What is a pathology report?

A pathology report gives you and your doctor important information about your cancer cells. This report is not written for your average consumer to understand. This is a technical report written by physicians for physicians. However, you can still educate yourself about the information in your pathology report and understand some things.1

What is in a pathology report?

Standard information that all pathology reports generally include:1

Demographics

  • Patient information
  • Case number
  • Doctor contact information
  • Lab information
  • Specimen information

Preoperative diagnosis

What your doctor thinks the diagnosis may be before your samples were examined.

Procedure

The type of procedure used to obtain the specimen samples.

Gross description

Things visible to the eye, such as weight, size, and color of tissues or body fluids.

Microscopic description (the most technical section)

  • Cell structure (histology): The kind of cancer identified
  • Tumor margins: Whether or not there are cancer cells at the edge of a tissue sample
  • Depth of invasion: Is the tumor invasive, metastatic, or noninvasive
  • Pathologic stage: (T) Size and location of tumor, (N) whether it has spread to nearby lymph nodes, (M) whether the tumor has spread to other parts of the body
  • Tumor grading: How cancer cells compare to normal healthy cells
  • Special tests or markers
  • Results of special tests performed in the lab to identify unique parts of these cells

Diagnosis

  • Cancer type
  • Pathologic staging results
  • Other test results

Summary

Details on the most important results are listed in a table. Also includes possible treatment options.

Comments

Description of any concerns about the sample or recommendations for more tests.

Pathologist signature

The name, date, and signature of the pathologist reviewing the lab results.

Ask for a copy of your report

Get a copy of the pathology report for your records. It may be hard to understand all of the medical languages. But this report is an important part of the documentation you should keep. Reviewing the report with your doctor will help you better understand your diagnosis and treatment options.

Keep in mind that a pathology report can be subjective and based on interpretation. Therefore a diagnosis is not always black and white. It is okay to ask questions and seek a second opinion on the specimen sample.

Talk to your doctor

When talking to your doctor about your pathology results, consider some of these questions:

  • What specific type of ovarian cancer do I have?
  • What does my stage mean?
  • Is it invasive or noninvasive and what does that mean?
  • Will I need surgery?
  • Do I need more tests?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What is my prognosis? Will I get better?
  • How long is the treatment process?

Understanding your pathology report will help you be informed and better prepared for treating your ovarian cancer.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.


Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.

Community Poll

Did you have a hysterectomy to treat your ovarian cancer?