Frequently Asked Questions
Patient Services & Information
What is an Anatomic Pathology Lab?
An anatomic pathology lab performs analysis on a variety of human body tissues, organs, and fluids to detect the presence or absence of disease. The pathologist’s main tool is a microscope, and we provide test results to your doctor that summarize our findings via a written report.
Why is testing needed?
A doctor may order a specimen test or biopsy when, during a physical examination or imaging appointment, an area appears to be abnormal. A biopsy is a tissue sample taken from the body to be examined more closely, such as from a lesion or tumor. Most are performed to look for various types of cancer, but there are many other conditions that can be identified with a biopsy. Based on pathology test results, your doctor can determine the best course of treatment for you, should you need it.
What happens when I have a biopsy?
There are many different types of biopsies—for example, a skin biopsy, prostate biopsy, or a fine needle aspiration (FNA), which occurs when a needle draws out material from a mass such as in a breast or lymph node. The most common reason for a biopsy is to evaluate the presence or absence of cancer, but a biopsy can also be used to detect other forms of disease, bacteria, virus, or fungus.
A surgical biopsy is placed in a fixative solution called formalin (a mixture of formaldehyde and water), labeled, and sent to a pathology lab with a requisition form, where your tissue specimen undergoes a series of processes for testing:
Trained technicians enter your data from the requisition form into a specialized electronic medical records (EMR) system. The Pathologist and his or her trained assistants then describe and dissect the tissue, and photograph relevant disease in a specially equipped pathology room called a Gross Room. In pathology, “gross” means to observe without a microscope. Selected representative tissue specimens are then placed in specialized color coded containers for overnight processing in a fixative solution that hardens and preserves the tissue.
Histotechs cut micro-thin sections of the tissue using an instrument called a microtome in the Histology Lab, place these sections on a microscope slide and then stain, or dye, the micro-thin sections to make the tissue more visible under the microscope.
Different stains highlight different tissue components (nuclei, muscle, etc.) or microorganisms (bacteria, fungus). The most widely used stain is a hematoxylin and eosin (H & E) stain, which produce varying shades of pink and blue in tissue samples.
Unlike Histology (the microscopic study of body tissue), Cytology is the microscopic examination of cells from fluids, scrapings, and aspirations, such as fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsies. Common fine needle aspiration biopsy sites include lymph nodes, breast, and thyroids.
The stained tissue slide is then read under a microscope by a pathologist looking for abnormalities. The pathologist will make a diagnosis and inform your doctor whether there is a presence or absence of disease.
How can I access my medical records?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires the protection and confidential handling of protected health information (PHI). In compliance with HIPAA, Heartland Pathology cannot grant patients direct access to reports by any other method than a request in person at our lab. To better access your pathology report, please contact your physician directly.
“Many consumers want to play a more active role in their health care. The right to see and get a copy of your medical records (called the right to access) is fundamental to your ability to participate in our health care system. For this reason, I know how important it is for you to be able to get your medical records. I see the value of access to health information every day as the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) does its vital work as the primary protector of the privacy and security of that information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). “ —Leon Rodriguez, Director, Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services