Understanding your pathology report
After your surgery, the pathology report will help doctors determine the stage (from 0 to 4) of your cancer. This is based on the size of your tumor and whether cancer is in your lymph nodes or has spread beyond the breast. The pathologist determines whether cells are cancerous, precancerous (at high risk of becoming cancerous) or benign (harmless). This information is key for your medical team to develop a treatment plan. Before you read the report:

Go to Breastcancer.org and find the celebrity talking dictionary. You can hear words that you may see on your report pronounced and then defined by the likes of Celine Dion, Regis Philbin or Tom Brokaw.

When it's time to go over the results, first check the top of the report to make sure the name and procedure are yours.

Be sure you have all the pieces of information. Sometimes tests lead to more tests so wait to get all the results. You will need the whole picture to help make decisions about your treatment.

Breastcancer.org describes the parts of the report. They include:

Clinical diagnosis: This is the diagnosis doctors were expecting before your tissue was tested.

Gross description: This talks about the size, weight, and color of each sample.

Microscopic description: This describes the way the cells look under the microscope.

Special tests or markers: This section reports the results of tests for proteins, genes, and how fast cells are growing.

Schedule time with your doctor just to go over the report. The language can be intimidating. Don't be afraid to ask questions. And don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion. It is a common request and most doctors are comfortable with it, says the American Cancer Society. In fact, some insurance companies require you to get one before you start treatment.