Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in Patient Care: FAQs

What is pathology? Pathology is a branch of medical science primarily concerning the cause, origin and nature of disease. It involves the examination of tissues, organs, bodily fluids and autopsies in order to study and diagnose disease.

What are the subdisciplines of pathology? Pathology is traditionally divided into two primary areas, Anatomic Pathology and Clinical Pathology. Anatomic Pathology, also known as Surgical Pathology, focuses of the examination of organs, tissues, and body fluids for structural abnormalities including autopsy examination of cadavers. The area specifically analyzing body fluids is called Cytopathology, and the area devoted to studying causes of death is Forensic Pathology. Clinical Pathology, also known as Laboratory Medicine, focuses on the examination of blood and other body samples for functional abnormalities.

What subspecialties are there in pathology?  Disciplines in Pathology are generally based on the type of tissue being examined, or on the type of analysis being performed. In Anatomic Pathology subspecialty Boards include Cytopathology, Dermatopathology Forensic Pathology, Hematopathology, Neuropathology, and Pediatric Pathology, although any tissue type may be a special area of focus. In Clinical Pathology, subspecialty Boards include Chemical Pathology, Clinical Informatics, Immunopathology, Medical Microbiology, Molecular Genetic Pathology, and Transfusion Medicine.

What is molecular pathology? Molecular Pathology is an emerging discipline which is focused on the study and diagnosis of disease through the examination of molecules within organs, tissues or body fluids. Tests may include analysis of nucleic acids, proteins, and/or other metabolic products. Results generally include an interpretation of the clinical significance of the findings including risk analysis for disease occurrence or progression.

What is precision medicine? Precision Medicine is also known as personalized medicine. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this is "an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.” Pathology by the very nature is “precision medicine” as results are generated that are patient specific. A cornerstone of Precision Medicine is the results generated by emerging Molecular Pathology testing.

What is clinical pathology? Clinical pathology is also known as laboratory medicine. Procedures performed support the diagnosis or prognosis of diseases through the use of laboratory testing on blood and other body fluids and tissues. Analyses may include microscopic evaluation of cellular components and may use molecular techniques as well. Pathologists and laboratory scientists play a key role in oversight of all laboratory medicine testing to ensure high quality patient results.

What are the subdisciplines of laboratory medicine? Subdisciplines of Laboratory Medicine are based on the type of analysis being performed. The major areas of testing include Blood Banking, Chemistry, Hematology, Immunology, Microbiology, and Urinalysis. Laboratory medicine also requires extensive knowledge of laboratory management issues and laboratory informatics processes.

What is a histopathologic examination? A histopathologic examination refers to the examination of a biopsy or surgically obtained tissue by a pathologist. The examination may include a gross macroscopic evaluation, a microscopic frozen section examination in an Operating Room setting, or microscopic evaluation after the specimen has been processed and sections have been placed onto glass slides. The pathologist renders a diagnosis based on any structural abnormalities observed and in many cases, special stains are performed to facilitate a specific diagnosis. Pathologists are assisted by licensed histotechnologists in the processing of histology samples.

What is a cytopathologic examination? A cytopathologic examination refers to the examination of free cells or tissue fragments in body fluids or needle aspirates using processes similar to those used in a histopathologic examination. One of the best known cytopathology procedures is the “PAP smear” used to screen for cervical cancer. Pathologists are assisted by licensed cytotechnologists in the processing of cytology samples.

What is a laboratory test? Laboratory tests are procedures performed by licensed laboratory technicians or medical laboratory scientists on blood, body fluids, and other clinical specimens to detect abnormalities associated with disease or disease risk. The oversight of laboratory testing to ensure high quality, cost effective, and clinically relevant results is the role of pathologists and doctoral clinical laboratory scientists

What is an autopsy? An autopsy, also known as a post-mortem examination or necropsy, is a specialized procedure performed by pathologists that involves surgical procedures on, gross macroscopic evaluation of, and microscopic examination of tissues from a deceased individual.  The primary purpose is to determine the cause and manner of death and to evaluate any disease or injury that may be present. Laboratory testing may also be performed on samples.

What is Forensic Pathology? Forensic pathology is the use of anatomic and clinical pathology analysis for legal purposes including determination of the cause of death as well as the assessment of any related conditions, and in determination of associations in other criminal events (eg sexual abuse or rape investigations).

What is Experimental Pathology? Experimental pathology, also known as investigative pathology, is the systematic study of disease processes through the macroscopic, microscopic, or molecular examination of organs, tissues, cells, or body fluids from diseased individuals as compared to non-diseased individuals. Any disease process may be studied including cancer, chronic diseases, infectious diseases, toxic diseases, or traumatic injuries

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Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

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Memphis, TN 38163
Phone: (901) 448-6300
Fax: (901) 448-6979
Email: pathdept@uthsc.edu