What is pathological anatomy and cytology?

Pathological anatomy and cytology refer to the medical specialty that studies tissues, cells, and their abnormalities in order to contribute to the diagnosis of diseases, notably cancers.

It allows the exact type of condition to be assessed in order to make the most effective therapeutic decisionsPathological anatomy and cytology use macroscopic study (visible to the naked eye), conventional microscopy, electron microscopy, and molecular biology techniques to analyze tissues (histological analysis) and cells (cytological analysis). Peripheral nervous system diseases fall within the branch of neuropathology, which studies the morphological alterations of cells and tissues.

What does an anatomical pathologist do?

An anatomical pathologist analyses organ and cell samples collected during a:

  • Biopsy,
  • Surgical procedure,
  • Gynecological smear test,
  • Puncture,
  • Etc.

This screening test can take place in a pathology laboratory or during a surgical procedure (extemporaneous examination) so that the right treatment can be immediately offered. In the latter case, samples taken may be sent for further analysis. This specialist carries out a substantive diagnostic intervention on the lesions identified and can evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment to be offered.

When to see a specialist in pathological anatomy and cytology

In most cases, your GP or a specialist (gynecologist, urologist, dermatologist, surgeon, etc.) will seek the opinion of a specialist in pathological anatomy and cytology in order to clarify a diagnosis.

What is cytology?

Cytology is the exam of a single cell type, as often found in fluid specimens. It’s mainly used to diagnose or screen for cancer. It’s also used to screen for fetal abnormalities, for pap smears, to diagnose infectious organisms, and in other screening and diagnostic areas.

The cells to be examined may be taken through the following methods:

  • Scraping or brushing the tissue surface, such as during a pap smear
  • Collecting body fluids, such as urine or respiratory phlegm
  • Fine-needle aspirations. This is removing cells by drawing them through a fine needle, such as abdominal fluid in ascites, pleural fluid from the lungs, or cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal canal. 
  • Other types of tissue biopsy 

Cytology is different from histology. Cytology generally involves looking at a single cell type. Histology is the exam of an entire block of tissue.

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