An Interview With a Pathologist
You can tell a lot about a person's health by peering into a microscope — just ask a pathologist. These experts read tissue to help diagnose (or rule out) diseases, especially cancer.
“It's fascinating that just by looking at tissues I can help find out what is affecting a patient, and then try and help,” says Ritu Ghai, MD, a pathologist at Rush.
Here, she answers a few questions about this pivotal behind-the-scenes work:
What are you looking for under the microscope?
We look to see if cells are abnormal. We know, from training, what normal organ cells look like. So, in the case of a suspected cancer, we are looking to see if the cells are arranged differently. And if there is a tumor, is the tumor limited to one area?
Does it seem to you that pathology is a lot like detective work?
Absolutely. With the help of a radiologist's report and a patient's clinical history, clinicians have a basic understanding of what they've come across. But they may not know what kind of tumor it is. Or sometimes if they know it's cancer, they may not know where (in the body) it came from.
Why is knowing where it came from important?
Let's say a tumor is taken from a lung. But after analyzing it, it looks like a pancreatic tumor. That's an important distinction because treatment is based on where the tumor originated. You're not treating lung cancer — you're treating pancreatic cancer that has spread to the lungs.
How fast does all of this happen?
We take care of most tests in our on-site lab, which is faster than sending them out. Additionally, one of the features of Rush's new hospital, the Tower, is our ability to communicate in real time with surgeons. That means a surgeon can send us a specimen from the operating room, and we're usually able to send back a diagnosis within 20 minutes.
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