Biopsy Results

The tissue sample taken during the biopsy is sent to a pathologist who examines the tissue under a microscope, looking for cells that show signs of cancer.

If cancer is found the pathology report will identify aspects of the tumor’s characteristics that are important in determining the type of treatment that is right for you. The pathology report will give your provider vital information including:

  • Size and location of the tumor: Size is reported in centimeters or millimeters.

  • Margins: This description will indicate if there is a rim of normal tissue around the tumor.

  • Type of tumor: A tumor will be described by type, such as squamous cell carcinoma, and also as invasive (capable of spreading) or noninvasive (also called in-situ).

  • Staging: Staging is done to identify the size of the tumor and extent of disease as well as being used for purposes of planning further treatment. In the past, tumors were staged on a scale I (best prognosis) through IV (worst prognosis). However, generic terms like Stage I, II, III, or IV were not found to be very useful in planning treatment nor do they give enough information to all the members of the healthcare team. In 1988, the American Joint Committee on Cancer was established to address this concern. A new method of staging for cancers was created. It is known as the TNM staging system. TNM can still be converted to the traditional stage I-IV, but physicians now talk of tumors in terms of their TNM staging.

Related Links
Treating Head and Neck Cancer at Virginia Mason in Seattle
FAQs About Head and Neck Cancer