Histopathological examination of tissues starts with surgerybiopsy, or autopsy. The tissue is removed from the body or plant, and then...often following expert dissection in the fresh state...placed in a fixative which stabilizes the tissues to prevent decay. The most common fixative is formalin (10% neutral buffered formaldehyde in water).

Nature of the work

Histopathologists work in the laboratory, both in partnership with laboratory scientists and doctors from other clinical specialties. They have an in-depth knowledge of both pathological and clinical aspects of the disease.

The histopathologist is a member of the multidisciplinary team, assessing cancer patients and planning their further investigation and treatment. They also have key responsibilities for cancer screening – currently for breast and cervical cancer but with bowel and prostate cancer screening on the horizon.
In many hospitals, biomedical scientists are undertaking more of the ‘routine’ cut-up of smaller specimens, and in some cases are also conducting microscopic examination and report writing of cytological samples.

With an increasing ability to automate and mechanize laboratory processes, there is the possibility that histopathology departments will no longer be necessary at smaller hospitals, and work may be managed centrally in dedicated histopathology centers with larger throughput capacity.

Some histopathologists have specific clinical roles, such as taking fine-needle aspiration cytology specimens in breast clinics. However, they generally don’t see patients in person. Instead, they deal with specimens sent to the laboratory, or deceased patients in the mortuary.

Patient contact is limited, although they may see a patient to explain how their diagnosis has guided the patient’s treatment or they may see the family of a deceased patient to explain the cause of death.