Sometimes, Diagnosis Is in the Eye of the Beholder

April 15, 2015 11:22 PM

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Rita Wilson's recent announcement of her experience with an early breast lesion emphasizes both the importance, and the limitations, of the pathologist in the evaluation of a breast biopsy. As laypeople, we assume that a pathologist can look at a piece of tissue and easily tell whether it is cancer or not. The truth is that there is some art as well as science in diagnosis.

To evaluate a biopsy, the tissue that is removed is cut up into small pieces and fixed in formalin to preserve it. It is then dehydrated and fixed in paraffin so that it can be sliced into slivers in a machine similar to the one used to slice ham. Each sliver is put on a glass slide, the paraffin is...

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