The diagnosis

What is a pathology report?

Pathology is the branch of medicine that looks at how disease affects the body’s cells and tissues.

A pathology report describes the results of any tests done on tissue removed from the body. Each time you have tissue removed, it’s looked at under a microscope and a report is written by a pathologist (a doctor who examines cells and tissues).

For example, 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 (border) of normal breast tissue around it)
  • 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 may work best for you.

The amount of detail in each report will depend on what tissue you’ve had removed and how much. Not all reports include the same amount of information. For example, a pathology report after a biopsy won’t contain all the information that’s in a report following surgery. You may need to wait for all your pathology reports to come back 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 wait depends on the type of biopsy or surgery you’ve had and where you’re treated. Results usually take between one and two weeks. Some tests take longer than others and may be done in a different hospital to the one where you’re being treated.

Occasionally pathologists get a second opinion about the results which can also delay them. Your specialist or breast care nurse should be able to tell you when your results will be ready.

What's in a pathology report?

Not all pathology reports look the same – the layout and terms used vary between hospitals. However, most follow this structure.

General information

This may include your name, date of birth and hospital number, your specialist’s name and the date of your surgery or biopsy.

Clinical information

This is the information given to the pathologist about the tissue, such as where it was in the breast before it was removed.

Features of the breast tissue before it’s looked at under a microscope

This section of the report is called the macroscopic description, and may include information about:

  • the size, weight and appearance of the tissue
  • how it was prepared for examination under the microscope

Features of the cancer seen under a microscope

This section of the report is called the microscopic description, and explains what type of breast cancer you have based on the features seen.

Summary of the main points

Sometimes this will be a list at the end of the report, under the heading ‘Diagnosis’.

All the information in pathology results is considered together when deciding which treatments to offer you and their likely benefits. No one piece of information should be looked at on its own – it always needs to be related to all your other results.

More information on treating breast cancer »

Questions to ask

You might want to take a look at our list of suggested questions to ask your doctor about your results.

For more detailed information about the information in your pathology report, download or order our booklet, Understanding your pathology results.

Last reviewed: February 2018
Next planned review begins 2020