The presence of a suspicious mass could be a sign of cancer. Or it could be a benign growth that may not even be life-threatening.
The difference between those outcomes requires a medical biopsy tool — frozen section pathology. The diagnostic method can provide life-saving insight.
Pathologists rely on frozen section biopsy to quickly and accurately diagnose suspicious growths. Are wondering how this type of tissue biopsy works? We’ll overview how frozen section pathology works.
Frozen Section Pathology: An Overview
Frozen section examinations are a specific biopsy procedure. They allow surgeons to rapidly diagnose a suspicious mass during a surgical procedure. Doctors commonly call the procedure cryosection.
During cryosection, the surgeon removes part of the tissue. He or she then sends it to a pathologist while the patient is under. The pathology lab is nearby or in the same room.
(Does the mention of a pathologist have you wondering, “What is pathology?” Here is a common pathology definition: The study of the causes and effects of disease and injury.)
While the medical team waits, a pathologist freezes the tissue using liquid nitrogen. The pathologist then slices the frozen tissue and examines it under a microscope. While the patient is still under, a determination of whether the tissue is cancerous or not can be made.
What Does Frozen Section Pathology Diagnose?
Pathologists use frozen section pathology to diagnose whether a growth is cancerous. Surgeons benefit greatly by being able to quickly diagnose tissue during surgery.
The prompt diagnosis allows surgeons to test how conservative or aggressive a surgical procedure is. Access to this information means the difference between prolonged treatments and being cancer-free.
If the growth is not cancerous, the surgeon can take a more limited approach to the procedure. The pathologist determines whether cancer is present. The surgeon then has the option of removing the entire growth.
Removing cancerous growths could end the presence of cancer. In other cases, it may greatly slow the spread of the tumor. Often, frozen section pathology allows patients to forgo secondary surgeries.
One alternative to frozen section biopsy uses formalin paraffin to stabilize the tissue. The fixed tissue embedding process is slightly more accurate, but the process takes longer to complete.
How Is a Frozen Section Biopsy Performed?
Once the tissue is transferred to the frozen tissue lab, a pathologist places the tissue on a freezing microtome machine. The sample is frozen within seconds of this procedure. Liquid nitrogen allows pathologists to freeze tissue evenly and quickly.
Once the biopsy reaches optimal levels, the cryosection can begin. A special device cuts a razor-thin slice of the frozen biopsy. The thin specimen is then placed under a microscope. A pathologist then determines if signs of cancer are present.
Once a diagnosis is complete, the surgeon can adjust the procedure accordingly. Once the surgery is complete, any removed tissue will be tested to improve the accuracy of the results.
The post-surgery tests involve a more time-consuming process that places the tissue in a fixative solution that embeds it in wax. The biopsy is then thinly sliced and stained. The pathologist then views it under a microscope.
Though slower, the follow-up test can confirm or contradict the prior test results. Even when post-surgical results are considered, frozen section pathology is highly reliable.
Advantages of Frozen Section Pathology
Frozen section pathology has become a standard biopsy test for patients who are suspected of having cancer. There are several advantages that make using frozen biopsy specimens the ideal medium for testing for cancer.
One of the main advantages of frozen section pathology is high accuracy. One study found that frozen section accuracy was nearly 98 percent. This means that frozen section pathology is extremely reliable for diagnosing cancer.
Frozen section pathology requires a fraction of the time of other biopsy examination methods. A frozen section procedure usually takes 30 to 45 minutes to complete.
Rather than taking one to two days, a surgeon can have the results in under one hour. The prompt treatment timeline easily fits within the typical surgery timeline a patient may have required.
Reduced Need for Follow-up Surgery
The entire diagnosis is completed while the patient is under anesthesia. The patient may be having treatment for the removal of the ovaries or another organ. Completing the frozen section can prevent the need for extra surgery.
Minimally Invasive Procedure
A frozen section is minimally invasive and extremely safe for the patient. The specimen is typically removed while the patient is under general anesthesia with a full medical team present. The amount of tissue removed for frozen section pathology is generally very small.
Better Health Outcomes
If cancer is present, removing cancerous tissue can slow or stop the spread of the disease. Often, cancerous growths are found during routine surgery. Discovering malignant growths during an operation can prevent the need for another surgery.
Anytime a doctor finds locations of cancer, treatment outcomes become more efficient. Fast, accurate test results allow surgeons and oncologists to explore new treatment options.
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