Frozen section

What is a frozen section?

A frozen section is a way for your pathologist to very quickly examine your tissue sample under the microscope. Other names for frozen section include quick section and intraoperative consultation.

Why are frozen sections performed?

A frozen section is a special type of procedure that is typically requested by a doctor at the time of surgery. The purpose of a frozen section is to provide your surgeon with information that will help with decision making during the surgery.

For example, a common reason for a frozen section is the examination of tissue surrounding a tumour for microscopic amounts of tumour that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Pathologists call this tissue the margin.

In some situations a frozen section may be used to provide a rapid diagnosis or to confirm that the diseased tissue has been removed before sending it for additional tests.

How is a frozen section different from other tissues sent to pathology?

Unlike most tissue sent to pathology, tissue examined as part of a frozen section is not placed in a preservative called formalin and embedded in wax before to being cut and placed on a slide. Instead the tissue is rapidly frozen and cut into thin slices using a machine called a microtome. The thin slices of tissue are then stained with a combination of dyes called hematoxylin and eosin so that they can be examined under the microscope within minutes of being received.

The rapid processing and examination of your tissue allows your pathologist to provide the surgeon with information in real-time. However, because this tissue is not preserved in formalin, many advanced tests cannot be performed at the time of a frozen section. For this reason, most diagnoses provided during a frozen section are considered preliminary and may be revised when the rest of your tissue sample is examined.

A frozen section description will be included in your pathology report if your surgeon requested that a pathologist examine a sample of your tissue at the time of your surgery.

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