When tests are performed on bodily fluids, organs and tissues for the purpose of the diagnosis and study of disease, those tests are referred to by the medical term “pathology.” A medical professional called a pathologist examines tissue samples with a microscope and notes certain characteristics that will determine what type of disease, if any, is present. Pathology crosses over and serves many medical disciplines, including the study of cancer.
Several tests may be given to a patient suspected of having mesothelioma, including a biopsy of the tumor area. More than one sample will be collected and sent to the pathologist for evaluation. The pathologist’s report will give detailed information concerning what type of mesothelioma is present and the stage, meaning how advanced the cancer is and whether it has spread. The pathologist may include the following information in the report:
- Patient’s personal information and clinical history
- Gross description of the tissue sampled and its origin
- Microscopic description of careful analysis of the sample
- Immunohistochemical analysis using chemical stains
- Diagnosis based on the available information
A pathologist can distinguish mesothelioma cells from normal cells by observing the difference in appearance, including their shape, under a microscope. More tests are usually needed to evaluate the protein types that are on the cells’ surface, and this tells the pathologist the histological nature of the cells, and whether the cells are malignant mesothelioma.
Immunopathologists may use immunohistochemistry (IHC) to identify proteins in mesothelioma cancer cells, which helps to determine the kind of mesothelioma tumor a patient has contracted. Establishing the histological type of tumor, such as sarcomatoid mesothelioma, biphasic or epithelial, affects the treatment choices doctors may use. Although mesothelioma is not presently curable, knowing the type and specific kind of cancer the patient is facing helps the doctors to give the best care possible.