A-Z of services

Cellular pathology department

In general Cellular Pathology looks at tissues (Histology) or cells (Cytology).

Sections within Cellular Pathology include:

  • Andrology - study of male infertility, and confirmation of sterility following male sterilization.
  • Cytopathology - specialist discipline that includes examination of diagnostic and screening of samples collected using non-invasive and minimally invasive techniques. To confirm or exclude disease.
  • Histopathology – examination of biopsy or excision material taken from a patient to detect and diagnose disease, disease progression or response to treatment.
  • Mortuary - site where Post mortem investigations are carried out.

What Happens to Your Specimen in Cellular Pathology?


Routine histology investigation requires tissue processing and usually takes up to 72 hours dependent upon the size and complexity of the sample. Additional time may be required if specialist investigations are required.


With the exception of frozen sections, the vast majority of tissue samples are received in a fixative solution called formalin which halts the natural processes of autolysis (enzymatic destruction) and bacterial attack, and preserves the tissue to enable it to withstand further processing. This takes from a few hours to three days depending on the size and nature of the specimen.

Gross Examination / Cut-up

Macroscopic examination of the specimen is normally done within a few hours of your specimen having been received in the laboratory. A Pathologist will examine the specimen, measuring its size, describing its colour and texture, and determining if any masses are present. If there are any lesions identified, the size and location relative to the excision margins (the place where the surgeon cut) will be recorded. The pathologist will then take small representative pieces of the specimen and put them into small containers called cassettes for processing.

Tissue Processing

"Processing" is the term used to describe the removal of water from tissues and its gradual replacement with molten paraffin wax. This normally takes about 15 hours and is usually carried out overnight.


Once processing is complete the processed tissue is then embedded in hot wax and attached to the back of the cassette to form a tissue block. When the block hardens, it is stable at room temperature indefinitely.


A very thin slice (about 4 microns) of the tissue is cut from the block using a microtome (a cutting instrument), and floated out on a water bath. This slice, or section, is then picked up on a glass slide.


The slides produced from all blocks are stained with Haematoxylin and Eosin. A number of specialist staining methods can also be used to demonstrate particular tissue components. Once all the slides for a particular case are ready they are collected together, checked and passed through to the Pathologist for diagnosis and reporting.


The processing of cytology specimens is dependent upon the type of sample. Generally cytology is subdivided into Gynaecological and Non-gynaecological cytology.

Gynaecological cytology requests

The specimens collected from Cervical screening patients are processed to produce slides that can be examined by Biomedical Scientists, who look for any cellular abnormalities. Any abnormalities detected will be passed through to a Pathologist for Reporting.

Non-gynaecological Cytology

Some examples of non-gynaecological cytological sites frequently sampled, and the method of sampling include:


Sampling method

  • Bronchial washings
  • Cerebro spinal fluid
  • Serous fluids
  • Sputum
  • Urine

Exfoliative (scraped off or collected in fluid)

  • Bile duct
  • Bronchus 


  • Breast
  • Lung
  • Thyroid

 Fine needle aspiration

These specimens contain cells which can be suspended in a body fluid (eg CSF), or liquid fixative (eg Bronchial washings), or pre-smeared onto a glass slide (eg FNA specimen).Preparation of the material depends upon the exact nature of the sample (the state it is received in, and the body site the cells have been collected from).The stained slides are made which are pre-screened by specialist Biomedical Scientists before being passed to a Pathologist for diagnosis and reporting.

External Quality Assessment

The department participates in the appropriate National EQA schemes

Call us on 0191 482 0000

In emergencies dial 999 / Non-emergencies dial 111

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