What is pathology?

Pathology is a branch of medicine and of medical science concerned with the nature and causes of disease.

Pathology is therefore vital to every aspect of medicine -- from the diagnosis of disease to the monitoring of chronic conditions and the effectiveness of medical treatments.

An understanding of pathology informs doctors of the mechanisms of how disease begins, even at the level of our genetic code, how that disease can be detected in the least invasive way and how disease will likely behave.

A specialist doctor who practices in pathology is called a pathologist and in their work they are supported by a diverse group of medical scientists and technicians.

The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia describes pathology well:

Pathology plays a vital role across all facets of medicine throughout our lives, from pre- conception to post mortem.

In fact it has been said that “Medicine IS Pathology”.

Due to the popularity of many television programs, the word ‘pathology’ brings up ideas of dead bodies and people in lab coats investigating the cause of suspicious deaths for the police. That’s certainly a side of pathology, but in fact it’s far more likely that pathologists are busy in a hospital clinic or laboratory helping living people.

Pathology is the medical science that saves lives by helping other doctors make informed decisions about their patients’ treatments.

Pathologists study the cause of disease and the ways in which diseases affect our bodies, across all branches of medicine. The doctors you see in surgery or at a clinic all depend on the knowledge, diagnostic skills and advice of pathologists.

Whether it’s a GP arranging a blood test or a surgeon wanting to know the nature of the lump removed at operation, the definitive answer is usually provided by a pathologist.