What Your Pathology Report Reveals

At last! Your doctor has your pathology report and is ready to discuss the next step in your treatment plan. A pathology report is a kind of "snapshot" of your cancer—a description of what the pathologist saw with his or her naked eye and under a microscope. Clues to the nature of a tumor come from how abnormal its cells look and what percentage of them is dividing. These and other factors are summed up as a grade of 1, 2 or 3. The higher the grade, the more aggressive the tumor.

Cancers are also classified by stage—a measure of how extensive the disease is. The system most often used is called TNM, for Tumor (size), Nodes (cancer present or not), Metastasis (cancer spread to distant organs). A number is assigned to each category based on further assessment. For example, if your tumor was less than 20 millimeters (mm) (also described as less than 2.0 cms) in diameter, no cancerous cells were found in your lymph nodes and there was no sign of spread to other organs, your cancer's TNM would be T1N0M0.

Once the TNM categories are determined, this information is combined with the grade to create an overall stage, from 0 for noninvasive to IV for the most serious (see chart below).

   Stages of breast cancer
0 Noninvasive Cancer cells contained within the breast ducts only
I Invasive Early stage, tumor less than 2 centimeters (cm),
with no or microscopic involvement of lymph nodes
II Invasive Early stage, tumor greater than 2 cm in size, or with spread to underarm lymph nodes
III Invasive Tumor with more extensive lymph node involvement, or greater than 5 cm with any spread to underarm lymph nodes
IV Invasive Metastatic (with spread to other parts of the body)

   Click here to download a worksheet for your next doctor’s visit.

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Starting Your Cancer Treatment
Your Healthcare Team
What Your Pathology Report Reveals
Getting a Second Opinion

What Other Tests Can Tell You
Understanding Lymph Nodes
Must-Know Definitions
More Resources

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