As the European Congress of Pathology begins this weekend in London, new research from GE Healthcare shows that many people do not understand the importance of the pathologist in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer1, the most common cancer in Europe, with more than 464,000 new cases diagnosed in 2012.2

Pathologists are vital to the diagnosis and clinical management of disease and are involved in 100% of all cancer diagnoses and in most patient care pathways. Of the 39% of people in the UK who did know pathologists play a role in diagnosing the disease, only just over half knew that pathologists also play a part in the ongoing treatment of a patient.

GE Healthcare’s Sara Dalmasso who leads their Digital Pathology business in Europe told Dailypublished: “We know the role of the pathologist is not well understood and these results support that. This lack of understanding may be one reason why there has been little investment so far in empowering pathologists who examine tissue samples with new tools and ways of working.

“Today, tissue slides have to be physically taken to the pathologist, or the pathologist has to travel to view them under a traditional microscope. This can result in delays, risks slides being lost or damaged and makes collaboration difficult. We’re working with pathologists to help improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis using our Omnyx digital pathology solution. And investing in technology is clearly good news for patients – quicker diagnosis, less time anxiously waiting for results and easy access to the opinion of specialists.”

Dr Suzy Lishman, Vice President and President Elect at the Royal College of Pathologists, said: “We are not surprised by these findings. We know many people understand little about the role the pathologist plays in their diagnosis and treatment. The Royal College of Pathologists runs programmes to raise awareness of the speciality including National Pathology Week, which will be held in November this year, so that patients can understand who is involved in their care and treatment.

“The College also recognises the benefits that investing in technology like digital pathology can have for patient care. Examples include pathologists being able to seek a swift second opinion from colleagues based anywhere in the world as well helping in the provision of out of hours services and opportunities for use in training. However, it remains essential that digital pathology services are standardised, are subject to quality controls and clinical audit, to ensure they help deliver the best care for patients.”

The GE research results showed that less than 50% of people surveyed in the US understood the pathologist role in diagnosing breast cancer compared to 78% of respondents in Russia and less than 20% of respondents in Japan and Korea.