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What happens to the tissue sample in the pathology department?

If imaging examinations such as mammography, ultrasound and/or magnetic resonance examinations produce abnormal results, the radiologist in charge will perform a so-called punch biopsy. Breast tissue is removed and sent for pathological examination.

We have asked

Dr. Anke Scharrer

Specialist in Pathology

Clinical Institute for Pathology

MUW – Vienna General Hospital

Are there pathologists specialised in cancer?

During their 6-year specialist training, all pathologists learn to recognise all types of cancer in tissue samples.

In addition, there is additional trainings in breast cancer diagnosis in the so-called Breast Health Centres.

What steps precede the diagnosis by the pathologist?

The sample, in case of breast cancer the punch biopsy from the breast, is sent to the pathology department in formalin liquid. Formalin preserves the sample material, and the sample should ideally lie in it for 24 hours.

During further processing, the samples are measured and placed in embedding cassettes (labelled with the sample number, which ensures assignment to the respective patient). The next processing step is dehydration of the material, which is carried out in special machines over several hours – usually overnight. The next day, the tissue sample is embedded in paraffin (a material similar to candle wax) and after cooling, it is sectioned into micrometer thin slices. These sections are mounted on glass slides and partially stained, and after a short drying period they are delivered to the pathologists who will exmine it. As a rule, it takes about 48 hours until the sample material can be examined for the first time.

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