Answers to frequently asked questions

What does gross description mean?

All pathology reports include a gross description. In pathology ‘gross’ describes the way a tissue sample looks without the use of a microscope. The gross description is an important part of the diagnostic process. In fact, in some instances your pathologist can make a diagnosis simply from interpreting the gross features of the tissue.

The gross description will include information such as the type of tissue received, the size of the tissue (usually in three dimensions), and the presence of any markers (usually sutures or ink) left by the surgeon to help orient the tissue.

The most important information in the gross description will involve the identification of any abnormal tissue such as a tumour. The description of any abnormal areas will also include the size, colour, shape, and relationship to the surrounding normal tissue. The number of abnormal areas will also be documented. Often the ‘feel’ of the abnormal tissue is also described.

During the gross examination, pieces of the tissue will be ‘sampled’ and submitted for microscopic examination. The gross description will describe any areas of tissue sampled and the relationships between the sampled tissue. All sampled tissues are placed in labelled ‘blocks’ or ‘cassettes’ which help your pathologist identify them later. Each block becomes a slide which is then examined under the microscope by the pathologist.

In most hospitals, the gross description is prepared by a pathologist’s assistant, a specially trained laboratory professional who conveys their observations to your pathologist. Specifically, the gross description tells your pathologist how the tissue looked before it was processed for microscopic examination. The gross description may also be performed by anatomical pathology residents or fellows.

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