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Before you begin your search for your diagnoses, take a moment to review these basic principles of disease. Prepare to enter the mind and world of the pathologist.

Tumor-Benign or Malignant?

For nearly every malignant tumor there is a benign counterpart.  For example, a common colon polyp is called an adenoma.   If it is malignant, it is called an adenocarcinoma.  Note the addition of -carcinoma immediately changes the diagnosis. Adeno-refers to gland forming. For soft tissue tumors, the change is similar.  A lipoma is benign tumor of fat.  A liposarcoma is its malignant counterpart.  As described in the What is Cancer? section, nearly every organ has a carcinoma or sarcoma associated with it.  Thus, a diagnosis of adenocarcinoma appears in the lungs as well as the colon. 

Infectious, Inflammatory, and the Rest

If the pathologist can determine a disease process is not a tumor, the process is usually infectious or a non-infectious inflammation.  Inflammation is a complicated process and is present both in tumors and non-tumorous conditions.  So from a purest standpoint, inflammation is not always a non-tumorous condition.  Some cancers may elicit a tremendous amount of inflammation and in fact, may occasionally be mistaken for a non-cancerous process. 

There are conditions which do not fall into these described categories.  There are congenital lesions such as malformations, genetic disorders, and disorders of metabolism.   Although by gross inspection, these tissues may be grossly abnormal, sometimes the microscopic findings vary very little from normal.  In this case, the pathologist must rely upon the clinical history and the gross description. 

What Does This Word Mean?

As you review your pathology report, make sure you understand all the terms which are used in all sections of the report.  In particular, the microscopic description and comment, if there is one, often provides critical information which sometimes, is not reflected in the final diagnosis. We've created a list of commonly used terms. Learn about the body in health and disease, what cells are, and what can go wrong.

Last Updated November 28, 2006

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