Pathology & Cancer Care

Pathology & Cancer Care

What is Pathology?

Pathology, broadly defined, is the study of disease, including its origins and mechanisms. Importantly, the term also refers to a specialty in modern medicine concerned primarily with diagnosing disease based on the examination and laboratory analysis of body tissue, blood or other body fluids.

Increasingly, information obtained in the laboratory from tissue specimens is being used to predict patients’ responses to different treatments. Thus, pathology has become increasingly important in informing the clinical care of patients.

Find out more about the role of pathology in patient care and read stories from Canadian pathologists at:

Pathologist with cells on petri dish

What is Molecular Pathology?

Molecular pathology is a discipline that seeks to diagnose and understand disease at the level of macromolecules (large molecules such as DNA, RNA and protein) often obtained from patient samples.

Why is Molecular Pathology important for Cancer Care?

Microscopic morphology refers to the appearances of cells and tissues when they are observed using a microscope. Microscopic morphology is the traditional method used by pathologists to diagnose cancer. Modern pathologists can now complement this diagnosis with molecular pathology techniques to look at changes to large molecules such as DNA, RNA or proteins inside cells. The number, type and magnitude of changes to these large molecules can provide pathologists with detailed information that is useful in diagnosing cancer and predicting which treatment the patient is most likely to respond to. Drugs that are specifically targeted to molecular alterations in cancer cells are generally expected to be more effective and less toxic than non-targeted treatment. Matching changes in large molecules inside a patient’s cells to targeted drugs is sometimes referred to as “precision medicine”, “stratified medicine”, “precision oncology” or “personalized medicine”.

For more information on personalized medicine and what tests are available for cancer patients in Canada, please visit the Canadian Cancer Society website:

Pathologist reviewing results with patient
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