Diagnosing Disease

Pathologists are responsible for the critical role of diagnosing disease. To make a diagnosis, pathologists carefully analyze and interpret changes in body tissue, blood, or other body fluids. Some of these changes determine the cause of disease while others show how severe a condition is, or can be used to monitor treatments.

While the traditional role of the pathologist has been to diagnose disease, pathologists are increasingly playing a pivotal role in disease prevention as well as the development of personalized medicine.

Essential to your care

Every day, pathologists across Canada analyze and interpret hundreds of thousands of patient samples. While you likely won’t ever meet your pathologist, he or she is essential to your diagnosis, care and recovery. Pathologists play a role in your health care from before you were born (pre-natal screening for medical conditions), through to old age, and sometimes even after your death.

Your family doctor, surgeon, and entire medical team depend on the knowledge, diagnostic skills and advice of your pathologist. Whether it’s your family doctor concerned about an unusual mole, your surgeon wanting to know if your appendix that was taken out showed appendicitis, or an oncologist trying to determine the best treatment for your cancer, they are all looking to your pathologist for a definitive answer. All pathologists, regardless of their special areas of expertise, provide your doctor with clinical consultation and advice, playing an essential role in your health care.

The future of pathology

“Pathology” derived from Ancient Greek words “pathos” – meaning experience or suffering – and “logia” – meaning an account or study of – literally means the study of suffering. Understanding the cause and behaviour of disease that causes suffering has enabled pathologists to make major headway in disease prevention, such as cancer, and early detection of chronic diseases such cystic fibrosis and diabetes mellitus, through genetic screening.

Pathologists are also playing a key role in the development of personalized medicine. No two people are the same, so understanding genetics – in addition to family history, lifestyle, and environmental factors – enables proactive and customized health management. Personalized medicine means better diagnoses, safer drug prescribing, and more effective treatment of disease.