Current tests are slow, expensive, complicated and/ or provide limited information

  • Currently, the most common preparation of biopsied tissue in use is called histology; an example of histology is shown on the right.   
  • Histology uses toxic chemicals that kill the cells and preserve certain characteristics of the tissue. This is followed by  staining to make certain useful characteristics visible.  
  • A highly skilled and experienced pathologist looks at the histology under a microscope, and by analyzing the shapes and arrangements of the dead cells, identifies the location and grade of any cancer.  
  • Generally, histology takes 48 hours then it can be anywhere from 2 to 14 days before the results of the pathologist's examination reaches the surgeon or the patient.  
  • Sophisticated equipment, dedicated rooms, and highly trained technicians are also required, putting histology out of reach of hospitals, clinics, and even whole countries that cannot afford the facilities and personnel.

Genetic tests yield probabilities not diagnoses

  • In addition to pathology there are tests  for the presence of genetic mutations that have been found in  a large number of the cancerous cells of other patients.   BRCA is one of the more well known.  Mutations in a BRCA gene inform surgical plans and prognoses. 
  • Discovery of mutations in BRCA or any of the other genes means that the carrier has an increased probability of developing cancer.  
  • It is not a diagnosis, it is one factor to be taken into account.

Biomarkers reveal information about biomarkers

  • Another type of test that is being used more widely involves looking for proteins that have been found in other patients with cancer.   
  • These tests are also used on dead, sometimes ground up cells. 
  • The answer received from these tests is 'yes' or 'no' to the presence of the particular protein sought; some tests also show where the protein is in the tissue. 
  •  The degree to which a particular biomarker's presence or absence informs the pathologist about the cancer varies. 
  • It is not a diagnosis, it is one factor to be taken into account.