Pathology is the study and diagnosis of disease. The word pathology is from Greek pathos, “feeling, suffering”; and logia, “the study of”. Pathologization, to pathologize, refers to the process of defining a condition or behavior as pathological, e.g. pathological gambling. Pathologies is synonymous with diseases. The suffix “path” is used to indicate a disease, e.g. psychopath.
Medical Pathology, Veterinary pathology and Phytopathology are the study of anatomic, biochemical or microbiological diseases. The related scientific study of disease processes is called general pathology. Psychopathology is the study of psychological or mental diseases.
Medical pathology is divided into two main branches, Anatomical pathology and Clinical pathology. Veterinary pathology is concerned with animal disease, whereas phytopathology is the study of plant diseases.
General pathology, also called investigative pathology, experimental pathology, or theoretical pathology, is a broad and complex scientific field which seeks to understand the mechanisms of injury to cells and tissues, as well as the body’s means of responding to and repairing injury. Areas of study include cellular adaptation to injury, necrosis, and inflammation, wound healing, and neoplasia. It forms the foundation of pathology, the application of this knowledge to diagnose diseases in humans and animals.
The term general pathology is also used to describe the practice of both anatomical and clinical pathology.
Anatomical pathology (Commonwealth) or anatomic pathology (United States) is a medical specialty that is concerned with the diagnosis of disease based on the gross, microscopic, chemical, immunologic and molecular examination of organs, tissues, and whole bodies (autopsy).
Anatomical pathology is itself divided in subspecialties, the main ones being surgical pathology, cytopathology, and forensic pathology. To be licensed to practice pathology, one has to complete medical school and secure a license to practice medicine.
Anatomical pathology is one of two branches of pathology, the other being clinical pathology, the diagnosis of disease through the laboratory analysis of bodily fluids and tissues. Often, pathologists practice both anatomical and clinical pathology, a combination known as general pathology. The distinction between anatomic and clinical pathology is increasingly blurred by the introduction of technologies that require new expertise and the need to provide patients and referring physicians with integrated diagnostic reports. Similar specialties exist in veterinary pathology.
Clinical pathology is a medical specialty that is concerned with the diagnosis of disease based on the laboratory analysis of bodily fluids such as blood and urine, and tissues using the tools of chemistry, microbiology, hematology and molecular pathology.
Clinical pathology is one of the two major divisions of pathology, the other being anatomical pathology. Often, pathologists practice both anatomical and clinical pathology, a combination sometimes known as general pathology.
Career as Clinical Pathologist:
Clinical pathologists work in close collaboration with medical technologist’s hospital administrations and referring physicians to ensure the accuracy and optimal utilization of laboratory testing.
Dermatopathology is a subspecialty of anatomic pathology that focuses on the skin as an organ. It is unique in that there are two routes which a physician can use to obtain this specialization. All general pathologists and general dermatologists are trained in the pathology of the skin; however, the dermatopathologist is a specialist in this organ. In the USA, either a general pathologist or a dermatologist can undergo a 1 to 2 year fellowship in the field of dermatopathology. The completion of this fellowship allows one to take a subspecialty board examination, and becomes a board certified dermatpathologist.
Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology:
Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology is one of nine dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association. Oral Pathologists must complete three years of post doctoral training in an accredited program and subsequently obtain Diplomat status from the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology. The specialty focuses on the diagnosis, clinical management and investigation of diseases that affect the oral cavity and surrounding maxillofacial structures including but not limited to odontogenic, infectious, epithelial, salivary gland, bone and soft tissue pathologies.
Forensic pathology is a branch of pathology concerned with determining the cause of death by examination of a cadaver. The autopsy is performed by the pathologist at the request of a coroner usually during the investigation of criminal law cases and civil law cases in some jurisdictions. Forensic pathologists are also frequently asked to confirm the identity of a cadaver.
Veterinary pathologists are doctors of veterinary medicine who specialize in the diagnosis of diseases through the examination of animal tissue and body fluids. As with medical pathology, veterinary pathology is divided in two branches, anatomical pathology and clinical pathology. Veterinary pathologists are critical participants in the drug development process.
In psychology and psychiatry, psychopathology is the study of mental illness, mental distress and abnormal, maladaptive behavior. The term is most commonly used within psychiatry where pathology refers to disease processes. Abnormal psychology is a similar term used more frequently in the non-medical field of psychology.
Plant pathology (also phytopathology) is the scientific study of plant diseases caused by pathogens (infectious diseases) and environmental conditions (physiological factors). Organisms that cause infectious disease include fungi, oomycetes, bacteria, viruses, viroids, virus-like organisms, phytoplasmas, protozoa, nematodes and parasitic plants. Not included are insects, mites, vertebrate or other pests that affect plant health by consumption of plant tissues. Plant pathology also involves the study of pathogen identification, disease etiology, disease cycles, economic impact, plant disease epidemiology, plant disease resistance, how plant diseases affect humans and animals, pathosystem genetics, and management of plant diseases.
The “disease triangle” is a central concept of plant pathology. It is based on the principle that infectious diseases develop, or do not develop, based on three-way interactions between the host, the pathogen, and environmental conditions.
Molecular pathology is an emerging discipline within pathology, and focuses in the study and diagnosis of disease through the examination of molecules within organs, tissues or bodily fluids. Molecular pathology shares some aspects of practice with both anatomic pathology and clinical pathology, molecular biology, biochemistry, proteomics and genetics, and is sometimes considered a “crossover” discipline. It is multi-disciplinary in nature and focuses mainly on the sub-microscopic aspects of disease and unknown illnesses with strange causes.
It is a scientific discipline that encompasses the development of molecular and genetic approaches to the diagnosis and classification of human tumors, the design and validation of predictive biomarkers for treatment response and disease progression, the susceptibility of individuals of different genetic constitution to develop cancer, and the environmental and lifestyle factors implicated in carcinogenesis.
As a Pathologist:
Pathologists are doctors who diagnose and characterize disease in living patients by examining biopsies or bodily fluids. In addition, pathologists interpret medical laboratory tests to help prevent illness or monitor a chronic condition.
The vast majority of cancer diagnoses are made by pathologists. Pathologists examine tissue biopsies to determine if they are benign or cancerous. Some pathologists specialize in genetic testing that can, for example, determine the most appropriate treatment for particular types of cancer. In addition, a pathologist analyzes blood samples from a patient’s annual physical and alerts their primary care physician to any changes in their health early, when successful treatment is most likely. Pathologists also review results of tests ordered or performed by specialists, such as blood tests ordered by a cardiologist, a biopsy of a skin lesion removed by a dermatologist, or a Pap test performed by a gynecologist, to detect abnormalities.
Pathologists work with other doctors, medical specialty societies, medical laboratory professionals, and health care consumer organizations to set guidelines and standards for medical laboratory testing that help improve a patient’s medical care and guide treatment, as well as ensure the quality and safety of domestic and international medical laboratories.
Pathologists may also conduct autopsies to investigate causes of death. Autopsy results can aid living patients by revealing a hereditary disease unknown to a patient’s family.
Pathology is a core discipline of medical school and many pathologists are also teachers. As managers of medical laboratories (which include chemistry, microbiology, cytology, the blood bank, etc.), pathologists play an important role in the development of laboratory information systems. Although the medical practice of pathology grew out of the tradition of investigative pathology, most modern pathologists do not perform original research.
Pathologists play a critical role on the patient care team, working with other doctors to treat patients and guide care. To be licensed, candidates must complete medical training, an approved residency program, and be certified by an appropriate body.