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Healthwise: Diagnosing a Disease

October 20, 2010

Pathology is the study and diagnosis of a disease. Individuals who work in the pathology lab are sort of like the doctors behind the doctors. They give physicians information needed to make a diagnosis.

Dr. Laura Spinelli is a pathologist at Martha Jefferson. She spends most of her time in the pathology lab looking through a microscope. Dr. Spinelli and her colleagues run tests on specimens, looking closely at cells and their patterns.

"It may be to determine various things, like how many white cells you might have in your peripheral blood, or if you have a breast biopsy, whether or not you have cancer," she said.

Although a patient may never meet the pathologist, doctors in the lab play an important role in health care.

"We're always aware of the patients and how what we say is going to effect them, whether they're going to have another surgery, radiation or chemotherapy," said Dr. Spinelli.

Sample specimens can include everything from breast tissue to toe nails. For those patients, Dr. Spinelli says having the lab inside the hospital, instead of having to send samples to a lab off-site, makes for better communication.

The pathology lab at Martha Jefferson Hospital tests about 100 samples each day.

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