How does pathology help?
WHAT CAN HISTOPATHOLOGY TELL ME ABOUT MY ANIMAL?

"Lumps" and "bumps"

  • It is frequently impossible to say what these are by just looking at them. The pathologist looks at the microscopic appearance to decide.
  • Often they are not cancer so, where this is the case, pathology can reassure you that there is nothing seriously wrong.
  • Sometimes pathology is needed to assess progress of the disease and whether the current treatment needs to be modified.
  • Taking a biopsy can also be useful before surgery to plan a surgical approach, increasing the chances of a successful outcome.
  • The veterinary pathologist adds a prognosis (the probability of what will happen) and often information such as recent research which may be of interest to you and your veterinary surgeon.

Skin biopsy

  • Often more than one sample is needed so that different stages of the problem may be checked.
  • The technique can be very useful in the early stages of some conditions but sometimes your veterinary surgeon will suggest stopping treatment and waiting until the right stage is present. This is very important if you are to get the best results.
  • Some skin diseases are only diagnosable by histopathology and a few may indicate disease elsewhere in the body.

Diseased parts of the body

  • The pathologist describes what is happening, suggests which causes are possible and which can be disregarded and the probable outcome (prognosis).  
  • The pathologist cannot make a diagnosis without reasonable proof so occasionally, and particularly where it is difficult to get a large enough sample, microscopic diagnosis is not possible.
  • The pathology usually rules out some diseases.
  • There are a few inconclusive results (needing a second biopsy) but not false diagnosis of serious disease.
  • Your veterinary surgeon will usually be able to tell you which samples may be a problem.

Post-mortems

  • Sadly, no animal lives for ever and pathology may help to explain what has happened in unexpected circumstances.

ARE THERE ANY LIMITATIONS?

Skin biopsy

  • Not every skin disease has pathology which is specific for a single cause but the pathologist is often able to suggest a group of diseases, eliminate others and so reduce the range of possible diagnoses.
  • Even with a diagnosis, some conditions may not be curable and careful management of the problem may be needed.
  • Alternatively, the biopsy may help your veterinary surgeon decide if an alternative treatment or referral is needed.