A Whole New World
Exploring the Universe of Pathology Fields
When you hear the word ‘pathology’, you probably have a pretty good idea of its broader meaning: The study of disease, with a focus on its causes and effects on the human body. However, because pathology is often overlooked as just a branch of medicine rather than a field in its own right, many people are not aware of the vast range of pathology subspecialties that exist. If this sounds like you, never fear—we’ve compiled just a few of the exciting fields that exist:
If your idea of a pathologist is a scientist that virtually lives in a lab, then you’re probably thinking of a clinical pathologist. Clinical pathologists are concerned with diagnosing diseases and identifying the pathogens (disease causing agents) that cause them through laboratory analysis of tissue and bodily fluids (blood, urine, cell swabs—you get the picture). Within the field of clinical pathology are secondary fields such as haematology (study of diseases of the blood), medical microbiology (study of microorganisms that cause infectious disease) and molecular pathology (study of disease on a molecular level).
One very important sector of clinical pathology is cytopathology, which looks at diseases at a cellular level (usually tissue fragments or free cells). Closely related is histopathology, which studies whole tissues rather than merely free cells (think: whole sections of a jigsaw rather than just the pieces). Cytopathological analysis is vital in diagnosing diseases such as cancers, and tests usually consist of cells smeared upon microscope slides, which are stained for easier inspection under a microscope. Cytopathology is often the key to diagnosis, as most diseases operate fundamentally on a cellular level.
Immunopathology looks at diseases arising from the malfunction of the body’s own defence mechanisms, either due to autoimmune hypersensitivity disorders (causing diseases such as Coeliac disease, which provokes wheat intolerance) or immunodeficiency (a lack of immune response) which leaves the body unable to fend for itself against various disease-causing organisms. Immunopathologists may conduct laboratory tests to assess the body’s immune response and ascertain the best course of treatment or management for the patient. Life changing stuff!
Anatomical pathology is the other major branch of pathology and involves diagnosis of disease from larger tissue samples, often collected in surgery, hospital or post-mortem during autopsy. Surgical pathology is the most substantive field of practice for most pathologists, with examination of gross (large-scale) specimens—sometimes even whole diseased organs. Surgical pathology now overlaps a lot with fields of clinical pathology due to the need for things such as molecular diagnostics and more advanced laboratory technologies to diagnose disease.
Odontology, cytopathology and dermatopathology all fall under the umbrella of anatomical pathology, with various diagnostic procedures used to detect disease in all these sub specialities (namely teeth, cells and skin structures).
Perhaps the most impressive area within the pathology world is that of forensic pathology. Ever seen a film involving a murder or crime, and wonder happens to the bodies that the crime scene investigators in plastic suits drag away? It is a forensic pathologist that generally conducts autopsies for murder and unexplained deaths to determine the cause of death, especially in those who have died suddenly with no known underlying medical conditions. There are often specialised sectors within the sphere, including cardiac pathology, drug related deaths and infant deaths due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Forensic pathologists may be required to share their autopsy findings in court.
The diversity that exists in the world of pathology means that there is always a plethora of exciting career options out there to explore. LTT offers courses in pathology collection and laboratory operations, which are great ways to begin your pathology journey should you wish to dip your toes into this life-saving industry – either by collecting pathology specimens or preparing them for analysis in a pathology lab: