August 25, 2023
In pathology, a specimen is anything that is removed or collected from the human body and sent to a laboratory so that it can be examined by a pathologist. A specimen could be a small piece of tissue or it could be an entire organ. A specimen could also be a fluid, such as blood or urine.
All specimens sent to pathology for examination by a pathologist are given a unique number or letter (for example “Specimen 1” or “Specimen A”) which allows them to be tracked as they move through the system. Most pathology reports will provide a separate diagnosis for each specimen sent. If you had more than one tissue sample sent to pathology at the same time, this may mean that the same diagnosis is repeated multiple times on your report or that only one of the specimens includes the diagnosis. However, when the same diagnosis applies to multiple specimens, some pathologists prefer to group all of the specimens together and give one diagnosis.
Common types of specimens include biopsies, excisions, and resections. Biopsies are the smallest types of specimens and a biopsy is usually performed to provide an initial diagnosis about a larger area of interest (such as a tumour). Excisions and resections are larger specimens and they are usually performed for the purpose of removing all or most of the abnormal tissue.
Most types of specimens undergo an initial or gross examination when they arrive at the laboratory. In this context, the word gross means ‘without a microscopic’ or ‘with the naked eye’. This examination is typically performed by a trained laboratory professional called a pathologist’s assistant. The pathologist’s assistant will describe the tissue and select parts to submit for microscopic examination by the pathologist.
This article was written by doctors to help you read and understand your pathology report. Contact us if you have questions about this article or your pathology report. For a complete introduction to your pathology report, read this article.