The diagnosis

What is a pathology report?

A pathology report describes the results of any tests done on tissue removed from the body. Each time you have tissue removed a report is written by a pathologist (a doctor who examines the tissue).

A report will be written if you have:

  • a biopsy (removal of tissue to be looked at under a microscope)
  • breast-conserving surgery (removal of the cancer and a margin of normal breast tissue around the cancer)
  • a mastectomy (removal of all the breast tissue including the nipple area).

The information in these pathology reports helps your specialist team decide which treatments work best for you. The amount of detail in each report will depend on what tissue you’ve had removed.

Not all the results will be included in every report. For example, a pathology report after a biopsy of a breast lump – where tissue is removed from a small, defined area – won’t contain all the information that’s in a report following surgery. You may need to wait for all your pathology reports before a full treatment plan can be decided.

More information on different types of surgery.

How long will I have to wait for results?

How long you have to wait depends on the type of surgery you’ve had and where you’re treated. Some tests take longer than others and different tests may be done in different laboratories.

Biopsy results may be ready in a few days (sometimes the same day), while results from breast-conserving surgery or a mastectomy usually take between one and two weeks. Your specialist or breast care nurse should be able to tell you when your results will be ready.

Second opinions

Sometimes your doctor or you may want to get a second opinion about the pathology results. If this is important for you, you should talk with your doctor. 

What's in a pathology report?

Not all pathology reports look the same. The layout and terms used vary between hospitals.

Your pathology report starts with general information such as your name, date of birth and hospital number, as well as your specialist’s name and the date of your surgery or biopsy.

This is usually followed by a description of the breast tissue before it’s looked at under a microscope. This section of the report is called the gross or macroscopic description and may include information about:

  • the size, weight and appearance of the tissue
  • where it was in the breast before it was removed
  • how it was prepared for examination under the microscope.

Next follows the microscopic description, which points out all the features of the cancer seen under a microscope. Finally, there’s a summary of the main points, sometimes in a list at the end of the report.

More information on treating breast cancer.

Questions to ask

To find out more about your pathology report, take a look at our list of suggested questions to ask your doctor and what they mean for your diagnosis.

Last reviewed: January 2016
Next planned review begins 2018

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