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Specimen Description: Details on Your Breast Cancer Pathology Report

Understand Your Pathology Report and How It Affects Treatment Decisions


Updated February 11, 2009

On your breast cancer pathology report, you'll see many details about the tissue that was removed during surgery. The section headed "specimen description" will cover the anatomical location of your surgery site, what surgical procedure was used to remove the tissue, and what type of preservative was used to transport the tissue to the pathology lab.

  • Anatomical location: Tissue may be removed from any quadrant of your left or right breast, from the inner or outer volume of breast tissue, or from what's known as the axillary tail of your breast, closer to your armpit. It may also come from your nipple, breast skin, chest wall beneath your breast, or from a specific nest of lymph nodes. This location must be recorded in case further imaging is needed, or scar tissue is found on future mammograms; it may also be needed in case of radiation therapy. Knowing the location from which the specimen was removed may help your doctor determine where the cancer originated.

  • Surgical procedure: Samples of tissue or fluid may be removed during a breast biopsy. Breast tumors may have been removed with a lumpectomy, quadrantectomy, or mastectomy. If a lumpectomy did not result in clear surgical margins, then a re-excision may have been done, resulting in a new specimen.

  • Pathology preservative type: Each tissue sample is put into a container with preservative for transport to the pathology lab. This keeps it clean and uncontaminated, so that excess handling won't affect the results of the pathologist's examination.

Learning More About Your Breast Cancer Diagnosis

National Cancer Institute. Pathology Reports: Questions and Answers. Reviewed: 12/06/2007

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