Degenerative changes

The Pathology Dictionary Team
February 21, 2023

What are degenerative changes?

In pathology, the term “degenerative changes” is used to describe the microscopic appearance of tissue that has undergone physical breakdown so that it no longer resembles normal healthy tissue. Degenerative changes can prevent a tissue or organ from functioning normally.

Does degenerative change mean cancer?

No. Degenerative change does not mean cancer. However, some tumours (including cancers) can show degenerative changes especially if the tumour is very large or if the tumour was previously treated.

Can degenerative changes be seen in a tumour?

Yes. Degenerative changes can be seen in both benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous) tumours. However, if a tumour is seen, it will also be described in your pathology report.

What causes tissue to undergo degenerative changes?

Causes of degenerative changes include ageing, toxins, chronic disease (such as diabetes, hypertension, or osteoarthritis), trauma, and ischemia (loss of blood supply to the tissue). Some types of tumours can show degenerative changes as a result of a prior medical procedure such as a biopsy or after treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Large or fast-growing tumours can also show degenerative changes as a result of insufficient or decreased blood flow.

What does it mean if the degenerative changes are described as “extensive”?

Pathologists use the term “extensive” to mean that the changes were seen throughout the tissue being examined.

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