Pathology is the study and diagnosis of disease through examination of organs, tissues, bodily fluids, and autopsies, and it addresses four components of disease, namely cause/etiology, mechanisms of development (pathogenesis), structural changes of cells (morphological changes), and the consequences of alterations (clinical manifestations).
Pathology is a unique medical specialty because it is so transverse in medicine, since diagnosis is the basis of patient treatment. It’s estimated that more than 70% of all medical calls on diagnosis, treatment, hospital admissions, and discharges are based on medical test results.
The discipline can be separated into different divisions, according to either the system being studied, like dermatopathology and the study of skin, or to the focus of the examination, like forensic pathology and determining the cause of death. General pathology covers the related scientific study of disease processes, and medical pathology is divided into two main branches, anatomical pathology and clinical pathology.
Alternative designations for general pathology include investigative pathology, experimental pathology, or theoretical pathology, since this a broad and complex scientific field that aims to understand the mechanisms of injury to cells and tissues, as well as the body’s means of responding to and repairing injury.
General pathology studies areas as cellular adaptation to injury, necrosis, inflammation, wound healing, and neoplasia, contributing to the foundation of pathology and facilitating the application of knowledge to accurate diagnosis.
Pathology and diagnosis
Pathology is practiced by pathologists, doctors who diagnose and detect diseases in patients or/and interpret medical laboratory tests to help prevent illness or monitor some chronic disorder. Most cancer diagnoses are made by pathologists that examine tissue biopsies to determine if they are benign or cancerous. Other doctors specialize in genetic testing that can be useful to choose the best treatment for certain cancers.
Blood samples from patients’ annual tests are also analyzed by pathologists that look for any changes in the patients’ health early, when treatment is most likely to be successful. Pathology specialists are also trained to detect abnormalities in tests of other specialties, for example in blood tests ordered by a cardiologist, a skin lesion biopsy collected by a dermatologist, or Papanicolaou test done by a gynecologist.
Although the medical practice of pathology is an outcome of the tradition of investigative pathology, pathologists nowadays rarely perform original research.
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Pathology at schools and labs
At medical schools, pathology is a core discipline, where pathologists are teachers and professors as well. In medical labs, pathology specialists have management functions, and they contribute to the development of information systems for laboratories, which can be chemistry, microbiology, cytology, blood banks, and other facilities.
To be licensed in Pathology, students and candidates have to complete medical training, an official residency program, and be certified by a proper organization. The American Board of Pathology or the American Osteopathic Board of Pathology are the entities responsible for certification in the United States of America. The distribution of Pathology specialties and sub-specialties is not the same in all the nations, even so it frequently comprises anatomic pathology and clinical pathology.
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