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Laboratory Medicine

Cytopathology

Cytopathology looks at changes in cell structure which enable quick diagnosis of many illnesses and conditions.

Mainly used in the diagnosis of cancer and identification of pre-cancers, it can also help to identify the causes of some infectious diseases and inflammatory conditions.


Types of cytopathology tests

There are two main types of cytopathology tests:

Cervical Cancer Screening Test

The NHS Cervical Screening Programme invites all women between the ages of 25 and 49, and 50 and 64 to have a cervical screening test every three years and five years respectively.

Cervical screening is a method of preventing cancer by detecting and treating abnormal changes in the cervix of women who are healthy and do not have any obvious symptoms.

Specimens from screenings are received from all GPs and hospitals within the Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland areas. We process about 50,000 - 60,000 specimens every year. The process for testing includes:

  • The specimens are taken directly from the cervix with a plastic brush, which is immediately placed into a vial containing preservative.
  • The lab receives the specimens, where they are processed and cells from the woman’s cervix are transferred to a slide, which is then stained.
  • The samples are analysed microscopically by qualified 'cytoscreeners' and biomedical scientists for any abnormal cells.
  • Any samples that contain possible abnormalities are referred to a Cytopathologist.
  • Any low grade abnormalities are tested for the presence of high risk types of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
  • Patients who do have abnormal samples will be monitored and/or treated.
  • Patients who have received treatment for cervical abnormalities will be tested to see if high risk HPV has been completely eliminated (Test of Cure).

Systemic or Non-Gynae Cytology

The cytology laboratory also receives samples from patients who are suspected to have cancer in other parts of the body (eg breast, lung etc).

Specimens are usually fluids that can be collected relatively easily, and include urines and fine needle aspirates.

Fluids are treated, and any cells in the fluid are transferred to glass slides.

The specimens are then stained so that the Cytopathologists can interpret them with microscopes. The Cytopathologists may then request further specialised investigations to help them reach a diagnosis.

The techniques used to take and then analyse samples are improving all the time. Many of our pathologists carry out research with Newcastle University, which means that our patients benefit from the latest and most effective diagnostic approaches available today.

It’s all about team work

Cytopathologists, Biomedical Scientists, Cytoscreeners, Healthcare Science Assistants and clerical staff all work together to deliver the correct diagnosis in the shortest possible time. Each member of the team is trained to an extremely high level so they can contribute to the high quality service for doctors and their patients.

From the entry of details on the computer to the interpretation of the most difficult and complex specimens, all the team plays their part to ensure that we deliver a first-class service

Focus on quality

The Cellular Pathology Team is focussed on quality - from accuracy of diagnosis to making sure that the report is provided as quickly as possible. Every step on the specimen journey is scrutinised to ensure that we maintain high quality at all times.

A partner in research

Our close association with Newcastle University provides many exciting and ground-breaking opportunities for joint research. Our fully-accredited laboratory with excellent equipment and high calibre medical and scientific staff works with the world-renowned university and its pioneering research. 

The excellence of our tissue-based research work has attracted interest from some of leading companies developing treatments for a range of conditions, from cancer to eczema.

Pathology myths

“Pathology is all about dead bodies”

Most television pathologists are forensic pathologists, however, this is not the case in the real world. Many histopathologists do not perform autopsies and those who do generally spend only a few hours per week doing them - most of their time is spent looking at samples from living patients.

Forensic pathologists make up a very small number of pathologists - fewer than 100 people in the country.

“Pathologists don’t take care of patients”

In a recent survey, only 6% of people thought that pathologists looked after patients in hospital. Although not all pathologists have direct patient contact, they are all key members of the various multi-disciplinary teams (or MDTs who have a range of skills) that manage the investigation and care of patients with cancer and other life threatening conditions. The vast majority of pathologists’ work is done for the benefit of living patients.

“Pathologists don’t diagnose cancer”

In a recent survey, only 29% of the public knew that pathologists diagnose cancer. In Histopathology particularly, a large part of the work involves diagnosing cancer and studying tissue to work out what sort of cancer it is and how far it has spread so that the correct treatment can be chosen. In fact, almost all cancers are diagnosed by Pathologists.

Diagnoses may be made by testing blood, urine or other fluids or from a biopsy. Pathologists tell other doctors what type of cancer patients have got, and how far it has spread so they know what treatment to offer.

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