Just as no two people are exactly alike, no two breast cancers are exactly the same, either. Your doctor will order a series of tests on the cancer and nearby tissues to create a “profile” of how the breast cancer looks and behaves. Some of these tests are done after the initial biopsy (removal of tissue sample for testing), others in the days and weeks after lumpectomy or mastectomy. Each time testing is done, your doctor receives a report of results from the laboratory. All of these lab reports together make up your complete pathology report.
Your pathology report is so important because it provides information you and your doctor need to make the best treatment choices for your particular diagnosis. Those decisions depend on knowing characteristics such as:
- the size and appearance of the cancer
- how quickly it grows
- any signs of spread to nearby healthy tissues
- whether certain things inside the body — such as hormones or genetic mutations (abnormal changes in genes) — are factors in the cancer’s growth and development
In this section you can read more about what your pathology report is likely to include and what the information means. If you’ve already been diagnosed with breast cancer and you see a test here that doesn’t appear in your report, don’t worry — not all of these tests are routine. Ask your doctor if you’re concerned about any tests that weren’t performed on your tissue. The laboratory keeps your tissue samples for a long time after surgery, so testing can be done later in the process of diagnosis if necessary.
For more help understanding your diagnosis, you can also use My Breast Cancer Coach. My Breast Cancer Coach is a questionnaire designed to help you better understand your type of breast cancer so you can focus on the information that's most relevant to you.
Visit the links below to learn about the different parts of your pathology report:
- Getting Your Pathology Report
- Non-Invasive or Invasive Breast Cancer
- Cell Grade
- Rate of Cell Growth
- Tumor Necrosis
- Size of the Breast Cancer
- Surgical Margins
- Vascular or Lymphatic System Invasion
- Lymph Node Involvement
- Ploidy (Number of Chromosomes)
- Hormone Receptor Status
- HER2 Status
- Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
- EGFR Status
- Genomic Assays: Oncotype DX, MammaPrint, and Mammostrat
- BRCA1 and BRCA2 Testing
- ATM, p53, CHEK2, PTEN, CDH1, and PALB2 Gene Testing
- Stages of Breast Cancer
- What Does Prognosis Mean?
- Your Diagnosis: Questions to Ask Your Doctor
- Tools for Tracking Results: Pathology Report Booklet
To connect with others who have been recently diagnosed, discuss experiences, and ask questions, visit the Breastcancer.org Discussion Board forum Just Diagnosed.
"The information in your pathology report often comes in bits and pieces. Just after surgery, the cancer cells are first looked at under the microscope. Results from additional studies that require special techniques may take longer. So you may have one, two, or three lab reports from one surgery. Together, the lab reports make up your pathology report. Try to keep all your reports in one place, so that when you go for your treatment evaluations, the doctors will have all the information they need."-- Marisa Weiss, M.D., president and founder, Breastcancer.org