Virtually Amazing

Hello everyone and welcome back!

I’ve appreciated some amazing feedback from my previous post discussing how doctors can sometimes be patients too, and the challenges one might face in different roles within our health care system. Not only a challenge of roles, but those that struggle with invisible illness have unique perspectives on patient care.

That said, this month let me take a break from all the fun content found between cases, concepts, and trends in pathology and laboratory medicine, and celebrate our amazingly successful (and virtual) Annual ASCP Meeting!

Image 1. Just look at this virtual lobby! Set aside that in-person connectivity dissapointment and just appreciate the quality put into this visually! More of my oggling to come in further images…

It was awesome. But don’t just take my word for it, we’re all people of science here, right? So let’s do it by the numbers!

  • 133 educational sessions
  • 3 general sessions
  • 4 named lectures
  • 36 round table sessions which included topics like wellness, problem-solving, collaborative solutions, and “birds of a feather” breakout discussions
  • 9 virtual video microscopy sessions
  • 8 session dedicated to laboratory professionals covering hematology, chemistry, microbiology, and blood banking
  • 6 resident board review sessions
  • 15 companion society sessions
  • 14 sessions related to wellness
  • 4 sessions discussing diversity and inclusion
  • 10 COVID-focused sessions
  • 20 grant funded sessions
  • 4 virtual patient symposia (more on this topic below…) and
  • And 300+ posters!
Image 2. More visual appreciation here: virtual sessions felt like you were really in a large, collective meeting of enthusiastic, like-minded laboratory professionals all learning, collaborating, and networking together!
Image 3. I was fortunate enough to to speak on this amazing panel regarding direct patient-and-pathologist interactions, making laboratory medicine and the overal healthcare experience, safer, more accessible, more interdisciplinary, and better equiped at dealing with the forefront of medical diagnostics!
Image 4. So, the session went well! Just look at that social media data: 36 million impressions over 3.5 days! That’s 1 million people engaging ASCP topics a day, or 12 people per second! All actively discussing and collaborating topics in pathology and laboratory medicine.
Image 5. How could I (of all people) ignore the fact that #ASCP2020 featured an amazing social (media) lounge where people from all over could connect, chat, network, and relax! There were interactive, virtual sessions covering all kinds of non-lab med stuff: yoga, meditation, mixology, and cooking! I hope this is a permanent addition to future (hopefully) hybrid in-person/virtual meetings.

What more could you ask for? The folks that run the logistics and planning for the ASCP Annual Meeting outdid themselves again. Sure this content would excite anyone in the field for 3 dedicated days of immersive learning and networking, but all this and more are still available online for virtual on-demand recorded viewing! Missed a session? No worries, it’s still waiting for you for about 6 months (through March of 2021). All the buzz aside from ASCP members having free access to all of this content, the excitement started months before the meeting went live. Estimates are still coming in, but membership grew by a couple hundred in the weeks leading up to the meeting—not surprising: free access for members? That was an excellent deal, so choice.

Image 6. The start of the #ASCPSoMeTeam’s amazing trajectory culminated at #ASCP2019 in Arizona, the more we work together the more we can accomplish for our profession and our patients, #StrongerTogether.
Image 7. ASCP’s Resident & Pathologist Councils are invaluable assets to promoting and advancing all of our professional development. #ASCP2020 was no different! From virtual fellowship fairs to online, interactive resident council sessions, there was a lot to take it—still available online!
Image 8. I’ve talked about previous ASCP Annual Meetings here and here, and while I can’t list every single aspect of what made this meeting (virtually) amazing, members can check in for about 6 months and see for themselves the quality and attention to detail that comes directly from our collective passion to make pathology and laboratory medicine better, for everyone. Kudos to the ASCP leadership and logistics teams that made this all possible!

Great to see you all at the meeting!

Thanks for reading! See you next time!


-Constantine E. Kanakis MD, MSc, MLS (ASCP)CM is a new first year resident physician in the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Department at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago with interests in hematopathology, transfusion medicine, bioethics, public health, and graphic medicine. His posts focus on the broader issues important to the practice of clinical laboratory medicine and their applications to global/public health, outreach/education, and advancing medical science. He is actively involved in public health and education, advocating for visibility and advancement of pathology and lab medicine. Watch his TEDx talk entitled “Unrecognizable Medicine” and follow him on Twitter @CEKanakisMD.

Doctors are Patients, Too

Hello again everyone, and welcome back!

Last time we talked a bit about what exactly pathology and laboratory medicine training looks like—a much-needed peek behind the curtain, if you ask me. This time, I’d like to discuss something that’s been challenging me way before I started working as a resident: something that’s made both clinical medicine and academic collaboration difficult (to say the least). I talk a lot about how medicine works best when we all come together and contribute our expertise from disciplines across the board for the sake of improving patient care; I even talk about how, too often, people don’t hear the messages coming through from their colleagues and that negatively impacts our field. We’re all guilty of it, some more than others. And in the last few weeks, I’ve been nearly deaf to my colleagues.

No literally, this article is about my Meniere’s disease and how those of us with invisible illness(es) can really impact the collaborative spirit of medical science. Trigger warning: frustration, anxiety, and pathology (mine, specifically). So here’s a reminder that everyone you meet and work alongside has issues they’re dealing or struggling with. And, to those outside of medicine, remember doctors are people too. Dr. Jena Martin, a dermatopathologist I admire and follow on social media recently promoted the topic #DoctorsArePatientsToo—she writes, shares, and promotes fantastic topics on social media and I suggest you check her content out at @jenamartinmd.

Image 1. By poet and patient Ronny Allen who was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer in July of 2010. He is passionate about education and awareness and advocates for patients everywhere. (Source: ronnyallan.com)

So, I’ve got a couple things to explain here. Come with me on a journey through the inner ear and out into the reaches of global pandemics!

An MD with MD

So what is Meniere’s disease (MD) and why does it deserve its own article? Well, first of all, it doesn’t deserve anything, it’s a garbage disorder with dumb symptoms and I’m only using it/myself as an example to highlight the struggle for other people working in medicine who also deal with invisible problems. But, since you asked…

Without belaboring any detail, Meniere’s is a somewhat understood inner ear disorder in which the potassium-rich, sound-signal inducing endolymphatic fluid builds up in the inner ear. This causes the organ of Corti (Image 2b) to swell up, along with the rest of the cochlea, the vestibule, and the fluid containing parts of the inner ear (Image 2a). The super pressurized vestibular-cochlear balloon is in a confined bone-space so what happens often is that small fistulas form, mixing the endo and perilymphatic fluids causing all sorts of problems not limited to but including: aural fullness, deafness, ridiculous multi-tonal/pulsatile tinnitus, distorted hearing, frequency loss, imbalance, severe peripheral/rotational vertigo lasting for hours, occasional tachycardia, anxiety, and more! There is no cure; therapy is symptom-dependent and purely aimed at management and mitigation of fulminant hearing loss. Did I mention that most times it’s one-sided, but mine is bilateral? Fun. I’ll be donating my ears to science and/or the garbage in some odd decades from now…

Image 2a and 2b. Dr. Strange-sound, or how I learned to stop worrying and love endolymph. Inner workings of the inner ear, note the marked swelling of fluid (hydrops) associated with the disease state compared to normal. (Sources: Nature and University of Iowa)

Let me put it this way: Over time, I will lose a stark majority of my natural hearing. I will continue to get occasional vertigo attacks, and related symptoms, until the disease (eventually…hopefully?) “burns out” and has no more capacity to damage any more already-damaged inner ear hair cells. I’ll probably get hearing aids or cochlear implants. (Whatever, I’ve always wanted to be half bionic…) I’ll probably keep a cane with me most times. (Dr. House anyone? Right? Or I could keep a sword in there? Legal issues?) But it’s not the long term that bothers me most. It’s the flare-ups. This disorder has periods of acute attacks, periods of mixed-symptom flare ups, and periods of remission. I can handle the remissions, hah. I can even handle the acute episodes—I’ve had great ENT colleagues and discovered great medication plans to manage the attacks. So that leaves the flares, which inspire writings like this one obviously. I wear my hearing aid, but it’s minimally helpful, and I practice patience until my hearing returns. But that isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when you’re a working resident MD!

The Sound of Silence

Technically, I haven’t experienced true silence since 2015. And, during flare-ups, most of my hearing is almost entirely replaced by the only sound my ears can accommodate and attenuate for which is their own local vasculature. If Edgar Allan Poe could see me know…telltale ears, anyone? Let me paint a picture of what I’m hearing right now on a pretty rough flare-up day, at work, at my desk in the resident room. I’m drinking tea, I can’t hear myself swallowing. I monitor my heartrate on my watch and it’s about 80-90 beats per minute, in my ear, all day, whoosh-whoosh. The pot of tea the robots have been making, whistles non-stop, 24/7. The mosquitoes I’ve been writing about for years now on Lablogatory never leave my cochlea. Cool, on top of that I’ve got hearing loss and aural fullness that makes me not able to hear low-volume pages/phone rings (vibrate mode FTW) and most talking—especially behind masks. (I’ll get to that in a second.) If I turn my hearing aid too high, there’s a squeaky feedback explosion, not to mention the occasional adjustments for quiet and/or super loud talkers, yikes. Just overall, me no hear too good right now. Basically if hearing was reading text, the printer is out of toner and the paper is provolone cheese. And the cheese is on fire. Opa!

Image 3. My flaming-cheese metaphor captured, a xerox copy being made by a waiter in Chicago’s Greektown, the original home of the flaming-cheese saganaki dish. (Source: Chicago Sun Times)

Global Pandemic? Sounds Pretty Bad…

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has created very interesting situations at work and elsewhere, all over the globe. People are utilizing the most effective measure against spreading the illness: which up to this point is the non-pharmaceutical intervention of social distancing. Nearly every single person working today, in any field, doing anything, reading this blog, has been a part of email chains, and conference calls, and …. sigh… Zoom meetings. I know, I know… there are pro’s and con’s to this but consider these three points for those with #InvisibleIlnesses:

  1. Working from home has liberated chronically ill folks

Okay so I have an intermittent vestibular/cochlear disorder. What about folks with chronic pain, or Lyme-sequelae, or brain fog, or any other host of hurdles before they can jump onto a video call. Pretend you’re sick at home with a (non-COVID) viral bug. Can you imagine how nice it would feel to have hot tea, your medications, your cat, your spouse, and (most importantly) your couch/bed/TV nearby? Within reason, you’ve just given people who would have needed to excuse themselves a way to participate productively!

2. Imagine having a supplementary PowerPoint or chat box during conversations IRL

One of my specific challenges is missing a word here, a sentence there, and not being able to catch up in a conversation. Usually it ends up with my smile-nodding through to the next topic or checkpoint, but in the current age of virtual meetings I can un-obtrusively ask “What was that last bit?” without seeming like I tuned out. And bonus: I can often get a text translation of a point or two I might have missed from keen colleagues aware of my AV troubles. I can only imagine what it would be like for those more permanently affected.

3. The explosion of inclusivity and accessibility is remarkable

Speaking of which, the number of videos and presentations I am now seeing with closed captions/text supplements are astounding. Usually when I’m in the midst of a flare, I have to check out from audiovisual stimuli and stick to reading only. This can be quite the challenge for work sometimes. But with chat boxes and videos with captions, I feel like I can catch right up. Now, I said I’m only like this part of the time, so for those that have felt excluded and marginalized I’m happy to say that inclusivity and accessibility are growing. I’ve often thought that the importance of a news story or press conference could be measured by the presence or absence of a sign-language interpreter. Over 100 press conferences by Governor Andrew Cuomo in NY, or in Chicago, Illinois with Governor JB Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and each of them was accompanied by ASL accessibility. Fantastic! Just look at one of many efforts online, like @ProjectHearing on Instagram, which promotes the advancement of these topics every day!

Image 4. “Deaf people problems” is a meme collection I’ve seen over and over on social media. Awareness, check. Clear message, check. Super creative visual way to demonstrate a better version of my flaming cheese analogy, super check.
Image 5. Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes, I’m literally stuck on mute. Video conferences might become the new normal. If they are, remember to speak clearly and keep things out of the way between your talking and your microphone. Consider captions for videos and make nice PowerPoints. Please, haha.

Your Lips Move but I Can’t Hear What You’re Saying

So why, when the world is literally aflame with a viral pandemic, am I drudging you through my rant against my inner ears? And why did I just commit the travesty of endorsing zoom calls and captions (I know some people hate captions—you came for a movie not a book, I get it).

Well this whole topic illustrates to big things about working both as a physician and as a person with an invisible condition. First, like most things in medicine, to achieve success you have to adapt, improvise, and overcome. Solving patients’ problems and advocating for their best outcomes takes a little finessing of the system sometimes, you’ve got to do the same thing for yourself. Second, since doctors are patients too, its okay to ask for help. I matched with some of the best residents I’ve ever met, and they’ve offered whatever they can in helping manage my flares during work. This includes anything from extra emails/group text notification chains, forwarding pages, translating video call jumbled audio, etc. They are the best!

Meniere’s has been a challenge to me for a couple of years now, and it’s something I deal with. We’ll call it a character-building attribute. But I genuinely did worry about how this was going to affect me during residency—I had my fair share of hard days in med school basic sciences, and plenty of attending wave-offs when I simply couldn’t hear on 4:00am rounds (yeah I’m looking at you OBGYN and Surgery…). But, it’s been good.

Image 6. Not a new Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, these are real and they’re incredible. Clear window facemasks are such a relief for me. I give ones to all the folks I work with and my life just got easier.

And more than just good, another resident actually has a more permanent hearing impairment and two desks over from mine are the embedded hearing interpreters provided by the department. They’ve been so friendly and provided my with so many resources that I couldn’t be more appreciative. Not only do I have another resident to confide hearing-related rants to, but I also have a department that cares enough to create a supportive and accessible environment. One of the best things they’ve provided: MASKS WITH WINDOWS! Because since this damn pandemic started, I can’t read lips anymore! I didn’t realize how much I depended on visual lip-reads to confirm my hearing that it’s been a learning curve to say the least. Imagine being mostly deaf, your hearing aid not helping much, and looking into a multi-headed scope while your attending lectures on what you’re looking at. An otherwise impossible situation, but my friends and colleagues find ways to make it work because when one person excels, we all do. I’ve been able to continue working, learning, and collaborating thanks to considerations for invisible illnesses like mine.

Consider your colleagues, what can you do to make sure they feel that their needs are met since #DoctorsArePatientsToo? See you next time!


-Constantine E. Kanakis MD, MSc, MLS (ASCP)CM is a new first year resident physician in the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Department at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago with interests in hematopathology, transfusion medicine, bioethics, public health, and graphic medicine. His posts focus on the broader issues important to the practice of clinical laboratory medicine and their applications to global/public health, outreach/education, and advancing medical science. He is actively involved in public health and education, advocating for visibility and advancement of pathology and lab medicine. Watch his TEDx talk entitled “Unrecognizable Medicine” and follow him on Twitter @CEKanakisMD.

Dr. Who?

Welcome back everyone!

Thanks for reading my piece last month on liquid biopsies. And, as a side note, there is a growing number of awesome quality content and posts from pandemic response, to inclusion, alongside COVID and case-studies so subscribe, share, and add this page to your bookmarks—STAT! Lablogatory has been a fantastic platform to share and learn so much in this past year, I could barely keep up!

Or super-STAT if you’re one of those people…but hey, that language belongs to all of us! Lab professionals, nurses, scientists, and doctors alike. And this month, I just want to take a quick moment to celebrate a milestone.

I’m officially a resident physician/trainee, medical post-graduate! (There was confetti falling just now on my end, not sure about yours, but work with me here.) It’s just one of those life-goals that feels great when you get there. But there’s a lot more to it than it seems…if I told you being a pathology resident means sacrificing early adulthood, amassing soul-crushing debt, and explaining to your peers and colleagues what it is exactly you do and why you also bear the moniker of “physician,” you’d delete that bookmarked webpage faster than I can make you scroll through this thing.

(oh good you’re still here!)

All that said, I’ve got to say: it’s worth every single bit of it. Times a million. But I really did mention some red flags that, were we discussing any other work environment, would make you definitely think twice before committing 5-10 years of your life. Furthermore, as a PGY-1 in pathology, I could stand next to any other patient-facing PGY-1 colleague (read: intern) and they wouldn’t have the faintest about what I actually do. Listen, the “lifestyle” specialty, generally 9-5er, no weekend, no 24hr call isn’t something I’m shy to celebrate, but it’s not the whole story. I’ve matched and started learning and working at a great institution with great faculty, mentors, and other residents/fellows. Bottom line: I’m more than a little happy about where I’m at professionally.

Image 1. Most path & lab med residents get cubicle-style desks to spend time reading, prepping, writing, learning, and previewing cases between responsibilities in sign-outs, tumor boards, or OR/gross room work. Most of my non-path friends don’t like this. It makes me very happy.

So, to my non-pathology friends, what is it exactly that I do during my residency training while you might be busy rounding, managing glucose levels, triaging cases, putting orders in—you know, regular intern stuff *shudders* … (pathology trainees don’t have an intern year, we jump right into the specialty and go for 3-4 straight on through). Like most of you I have a transition period where I get acclimated to the workload and patterns of my specific residency, but sans-anno-interna, I’ve got lots of work ahead to climb the steep learning curve that med school pathology merely skims.

What does non-patient-facing mean, exactly?

Well, without an intern year you jump right into what most path residents go into which is a 4-year combined anatomic and clinical pathology (AP/CP) track. You immediately begin training in all the fields in pathology. They include surgical pathology (of various sub specialties like head-and-neck, gynecologic, gastrointestinal, thoracic, neuro, etc.—think surgery, then add pathology), autopsy training, dermatopathology, cytopathology, hematopathology, transfusion medicine, clinical chemistry, microbiology, hemostasis and coagulopathy, pediatric pathology, forensic pathology, molecular, training as a laboratory director, and much, much more. Each of these services has a workload which is usually comprised of cases from biopsies and grossed specimens for histologic analysis (anatomic pathology) or the ongoing maintenance and advancement of clinical diagnostic testing through laboratory methods and management of staff/resources (clinical pathology).

Image 2. August 2019 Issue of The Pathologist magazine. Pathologists, medical students, microscopes, you get it…Specifically, that’s one of my mentors (and now faculty) Dr. Kamran Mirza and (then) medical student Austin McHenry discussing the critical role pathology plays in every circle of medical care.

When I say “non-patient facing” this means that the majority of that work is not done in 1-on-1 settings with patients in a clinic or hospital floor. It is done ancillary to their clinical experience whereby pathology attendings manage the simultaneous training of residents and processing of case sign outs for rapid and accurate diagnostic output for our patient-facing colleagues. For example, while a patient, their family, and doctor are discussing and managing symptoms related to a possible cancer diagnosis. The pathologists are examining microscopic behavior of the cancer-in-question’s cells and adding immunohistochemical testing and molecular analyses to identify, stage, and prognosticate that cancer. Returning information about what it is and what can be done back to the patient-facing clinician, who can then best-translate a tailored approach for their patient. Old-timey medical texts would often refer to the pathologist as the “doctors’ doctor,” and I’m not here to hate on that haha. My clinical friends and readers might feel forlorn now at the prospect of 4 years of medical school training to “just look into a microscope all day?” Well, for some folks in path it means a lot more than that, every slide is a patient. So we care just as much as if they were right opposite our desk. But that’s not all we do…

(More on that in a minute.)

So What Do You Do?

Okay, there are lot of words in path that might act as a barrier to understanding the common ground between me and …let’s say a colleague and friend in Family Medicine. So for the purposes of transparency here’s my friend from medical school Dr. Danash Raja and how a small part of his schedule and my schedule aren’t so different…

Image 3. Dr. Raja is from Alaska, and now works as a resident physician in Family Medicine in Eu Claire, Wisconsin! Alaska! Look at this graduation photo!

On both sides of this table are clinicians managing their patients and ensuring the best possible outcomes. Both sides are deeply vested in intensive hours of training, procedural experience, evidence-based best-practices from the literature, and ongoing continuing education.

Image 4. They see me grossin’, they hatin’…A lot of surgical pathology and microscopy in general revolves around understanding the gross layout of a specimen and its orientation before it becomes a thin microscope slide. As a junior pathology resident, we spend a lot of time up near the OR. Critical skill for a crucial foundation of knowledge.

Literally the biggest differences:

  • In pathology, I get my own desk space and I need it! I’ve got to start amassing a physical and digital library to supplement the next 4-6 years of subspecialty training for the eventual day when a colleague will see me in an elevator and expect concise, thorough, and actionable material to inform their clinical management from the pathologic diagnosis.
  • Pathology residents and clinical residents both take “call” except Dr. Raja has to pull grueling 24-hour+ shifts and stay in the hospital for the duration, and I answered a page about a transfusion reaction from a grocery store once.
  • When a patient thinks about the person who helped them find out what kind of cancer they had and what treatment to begin, they’ll probably think of Dr. Raja or someone patient-facing in Heme/Onc—but I’m working on this, every day!

Bottom line: I’m as important as he is, and he is as important as I am. Our work is what really matters, and what really connects us as clinical colleagues. It’s all about patients, remember? But I’m more than happy to be the pathologist to his patient-facing, diabetes-managing, vaccine-giving, life-improving super hero doctor!

You Never See Patients?

We’re back on this. Remember how I said looking into microscopes isn’t all we do? Okay, well it’s not. And if you’re lucky enough to have matched to as awesome of a place as I did, then you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve read some of my pieces, you know full well my passion in pathology lies in Hematopathology and Transfusion Medicine. I like to sit right on the fence between AP and CP, and mostly look at the green grass on the CP yard. This month, I’ve been on service for Transfusion Medicine and let me tell you about the few weeks…

Image 5. Dr. Kimberly Sanford, ASCP leadership and Director of Transfusion Medicine at VCU was highlighted in The Pathologist magazine for her work outside the laboratory seeing patients every day, and encouraging residents to do the same and do what pathologists do best: enrich and improve the channels of communication so patients better understand their conditions and the medical process.

I, a pathologist trainee, resident physician, under the supervision of two attending physician pathologists have been seeing and following up on patients nearly every day. Gasp! No, I’m not part of some backwards resident exchange program (because OMG how dangerous haha), no I’m not lost, no I’m not being overly gunnery, that’s it, that’s the Tweet. Seriously, it’s just part of the service. Larger academic hospitals with robust clinical blood bank services often have apheresis clinics and I find myself working exactly there. Blood bank/Transfusion Medicine is one of those subspecialties where patient contact is part of the routine. At some institutions, I’ve been a part of some pathology-led teams that procure the bone marrow aspirates from their patients in Hemepath service, or conducted their own fine needle aspirations for cytology service, or dermpath services that operate in clinics alongside their dermatology colleagues—I’ve even been working on frozen sections and surgical path grossing when called into an operating room to discuss methods and approach for biopsy! There were patients at every turn, all with pathologists on the front line! Dr. Syed T. Hoda (@01sth02 on Twitter) from NYU Langone often says, “Person FIRST, doctor SECOND, specialist THIRD.” And trust him, he’s a bone and soft tissue pathologist that left the lab and went to the floors to help clinical staff when overwhelmed during the peak of the COVID crisis in NYC. So for my dual-interests, I would say I’d expect to see quite a bit of patients in my future practice.

Image 6. My awesome co-residents! (Left-to-right): me, Dr. Elnaz Panah, Dr. Aayushma Regmi, and Dr. Sandra Haddad—you’re going to hear more about them, don’t worry.

So, would I pick pathology again? Uh, yeah! Without a single hesitation. Every day at work I am reminded that I am at the right place, with the right co-residents, the right faculty and mentorship, and the right environment to train and hone my future skills for a career that lines up exactly with what I want to do.If you’re interested about the intersections between clinical medicine and pathology, and want to learn more about “patient-facing pathology” keep an eye out during the 2020 ASCP Annual Meeting for a talk by yours truly as part of a panel discussion on communicating directly with patients! Register now! Free for members.

See you next time!

BONUS: did you notice that I referenced The Pathologist magazine a bit in this post, well it’s because they named me to their Pathology Power List for 2020! An exclusive, international list of 80 professionals in the field of pathology and laboratory medicine who contribute and advance the profession every day! I was highlighted for my active social media work and my response to the early COVID pandemic in Manhattan, NY.


-Constantine E. Kanakis MD, MSc, MLS (ASCP)CM is a new first year resident physician in the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Department at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago with interests in hematopathology, transfusion medicine, bioethics, public health, and graphic medicine. His posts focus on the broader issues important to the practice of clinical laboratory medicine and their applications to global/public health, outreach/education, and advancing medical science. He is actively involved in public health and education, advocating for visibility and advancement of pathology and lab medicine. Watch his TEDx talk entitled “Unrecognizable Medicine” and follow him on Twitter @CEKanakisMD.

Making Meetings Matter

Hello again everyone!

I’m writing to you now back in Manhattan after visiting sunny Phoenix, AZ for this year’s ASCP Annual Meeting. Last month I talked about downtime, pathology emergencies, and introduced you all to our insightful and dynamic colleague, Jalissa Hall. It was great working with her and one of the last things we talked about was getting to go to professional society meetings. We also talked about the upcoming meeting next year in Austin, TX! And that’s exactly what I’d like to talk about with you this time: why going to meetings like ASCP is not only educational, but an excellent way to network with your laboratorian peers from around the country.

Image 1a. My wife and I made it to the Phoenix Hyatt Regency on registration day! ASCP swag on, obviously.
Image 1b. Behind the Scenes – Hosting the ASCP 2019 Facebook Live broadcast with two fantastic colleagues, Dr. K. Mirza and Dr. A. Booth! Did you catch us? But more about social media later…

I couldn’t go to every single session—there’s just too many—but I did learn so much valuable, practical information at the educational sessions. Here are just a mere few insights from the long list of fantastic speakers I had the chance to visit!

I participated in an interactive session on the ASCP/CAP/ASH guidelines for lymphoma workup…

Figure 1. All the multidisciplinary expertise must go through rigorous adjustment and evaluation all the way throughout the process of seeking out and publishing proper guidelines. (Source: ASCP 2019 session 5007-19; Kroft, S., Sever, C., and Cheung, M.)

Drs. Kroft, Sever, and Cheung discussed updates from the WHO 2016 guidelines as well as relating any changes in concurrent literature to appropriate diagnostic accuracy with evidence-based guidelines. If it sounds familiar, it’s because I talked about these guidelines a few months ago! In my month clerkship at The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN I presented a therapy-related AML case in the setting of Li-Fraumeni disorder. In my discussion I stressed the utility and importance of having organized and algorithmic guidelines to diagnose patients accurately, effectively, and timely. This time, instead of just talking about the guidelines, I got to listen to some of the folks who actually put them together—and, according to them, it’s no easy task!

I learned about culturally appropriate leadership training…

Figure 2. The panelists each had something insightful and moving to contribute to this wonderful discussion on female empowerment in our profession, and ultimately how it relates to improving patient care! (Source: ASCP 2019 session 8012-19; Mulder, L., Upton, M., Vuhahula, E., Abedl AlThagafi, M., Papas, F., and Sanford, K.)

This year’s ASCP president, Dr. Melissa Upton moderated this fantastic panel and opened with an old proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This was definitely a theme for each of the mini-sessions’ discussions. ASCP’s own Lotte Mulder discussed her research on culturally applicable leadership training using her Leadership Institute Initiative. She talked about countries that are culturally different and developmentally different up and down the spectrum can all benefit from leadership development and opportunity. Next came Dr. Edda Vuhahula, an accomplished physician, educator, and advocate in Tanzania. She related her experiences of women in leadership roles, and challenges on the horizon as more women rise to these positions every day. Dr. Malak Abed AlThagafi talked about her “hats:” as an entrepreneur, a medical director, and a researcher in her whirlwind story of empowerment and accomplishment. Finally, medical laboratory scientist and former Philippine Army colonel, Filipinas Papas gave her personal perspectives on sexism, education, bias, and opportunity.

Celebrated my colleagues and my contributions to the 6th Choosing Wisely list of recommendations…

Figure 3. My totally biased favorite slide from Dr. Lee H. Hilbourne, chair of the ASCP Effective Test Utilization Steering Committee. It’s an honor to be included in this year’s list, alongside so many accomplished contributors.

The Choosing Wisely initiative, partnering with the American Board of Internal Medicine and many other specialty organizations, is one of my favorite programs at ASCP. To date, our lab medicine organization has the highest number of effective test utilization recommendations. ASCP seeks active contributions to our expanding lists of recommendations to eliminate wasteful, unnecessary testing and to improve patient outcomes. This talk was also a great opportunity to honor the ASCP 2019 Choosing Wisely Champions: Dr. Gary W. Procop from the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Lucy Nam from the Inova Lab best practice team, and Dr. Alyssa Ziman from UCLA Health. Want to read the most updated list of recommendations ASCP made to the Choosing Wisely initiative?

Check it out here: https://www.ascp.org/content/docs/default-source/get-involved-pdfs/istp_choosingwisely/2019_ascp-30-things-list.pdf

I watched some cutting-edge exchanges about cellular therapy…

Image 2. Here I am with laboratorian S. Malakian and Dr. Gastineau with The Mayo Clinic after they discussed the future of complex cell therapies.

One really effective take-home message from this seminar was that, if we’re going to rely on cellular therapy in the future—especially as it relates to “individualized medicine”—then who do you think should be in charge? Who’s got the most experience and knowledge when it comes to cell storage, transfusion protocol, patient outcomes, and high reliability? Short answer: it’s us. Long answer: go back and check out a piece I wrote about high-stakes responsibility in and out of the lab!

Popped into fascinating hematologic cases at our neighboring SHEAHP2019 meeting…

Listen, I like hematopathology, I’ll be the first to tell you that. There were so many people giving presentations in this near standing-room-only meeting, that I recognized from papers, abstracts, and journals that I’ve read in the past year alone! There were so many interesting sessions at this meeting, I wish I could have seen more…

Image 3. Here’s Dr. J. Dalland from Mayo Clinic Pathology discussing a lymphoproliferative disorder with associated eosinophilia. These talks go deep into morphology and photypic patterns, so that Hemepath colleagues have a chance to assess their workup and protocols. It’s also great learning for avoiding pitfalls—this case shows architectural changes in lymph nodes which could cause someone to misdiagnose!

Learned how to create an impactful dialogue with patients directly…

What do you do as a pathologist when a patient wants to speak to you? Yes, you. Not a typo! This was the last talk I went to and it was a great way to close out this awesome conference.

Image 4. Me with (left to right) Dr. K. Sanford from VCU, Patient Champion Anthony Reed, Dr. M. Sitorius from the University of Nebraska, and M. Mitchell. All of these individuals had amazing things to say about bridging the gap between the bench and the bedside!

In their own ways these patient advocates demonstrated that if you want to represent our lab profession as one of accuracy, answers, and hope, we’ve got the skills and resources to do it! Dr. Sanford sees so many patients in her transfusion services and discusses their care plans regularly. Mr. Reed is an ASCP patient champion who, after being diagnosed with ESRD, became a learned lab ally. Dr. Sitorius is a family medicine physician at a pathology conference, talking about empathy and connection! Ms. Mitchell has done fantastic work with her pathology colleagues after beating cancer and fighting for patient education every day! These folks have taken our field of laboratory medicine to its outer edges, touching patients’ lives directly—and I left energized to take it further in the future.

And of course, I learned so much about the utilization of social media as a practical tool for education, advocacy, and outreach…

I can’t list every single session, lecture, keynote, presentation, or panel in this article. This was just a glimpse of what meetings like this have to offer. You will learn, obviously, but you’ll also gain access to new perspectives and meet people who reinvigorate your passion for your profession in ways you didn’t even consider. One of the most fulfilling experiences of this meeting was being on the ASCP Social Media Team! Posting to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter with the hashtags #ASCP2019, #ASCPSoMeTeam, or the scavenger hunt #ASCPiSpy was a great way to bolster our enthusiastic network. This was my third ASCP Annual Meeting, and I met so many wonderful people I can’t wait for the next one! Here’s a few of my favorite snaps from the meeting:

Image 5. Here’s part of our amazing #SocialMediaTeam: (left to right) A. Odegard from Baptist Health, myself, Dr. S. Mukhopadhyay from the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. A. Booth from the University of Texas, and Dr. K. Mirza from Loyola Chicago!
Image 6. At my first ASCP meeting in California, Jeff Jacobs, ASCP’s Chief Science Officer, gave me some of the best advice for my own personal and professional growth, “Stay Humble” he told me. Nearly 5 years later, he added “Don’t Give Up” on goals, yourself, or anything in life. You can’t pick that up in a path review book. I feel lucky to know people like him.
Image 7. #SoMe FTW (Social Media for the win!) At this great talk, Dr. C. Arnold, Dr. L. Shirley, and Dr. D. Gray III, all from the Ohio State University discussed how to use social media to build a reputation and expand your impact as a pathologist, educator, and advocate!
Image 8: Conferences are a great time to run into old friends and colleagues whom you may have spent a month rotating with! If you read about my time at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut, Drs. O. Olayinka and G. Kuar were part of it and I’m glad to call them friends!
Image 9: Presented by the ASCP Resident and Pathologist Councils, this was a great networking session to discuss fellowships, employment, and how to plan for the first 100 days of working in laboratory medicine from PGY-1 and on! I certainly learned a lot!
Image 10: (left to right) Dr. K. Chaztopoulos from the Mayo Clinic, myself, and K.C. Booth, RN in front of his finalist poster in the scientific category! Another valuable professional connection and friend made through my experiences in laboratory medicine.
Image 11. When one of your mentors (Dr. K. Mirza) is signing copies of The Pathologist magazine that featured him on the cover, you get in line for one …obviously.
Image 12. Dr. M. Upton is an inspirational speaker and insightful individual both on stage and in person. She had words of encouragement for my upcoming residency interview season and made sure I felt I could rely on ASCP for whatever I needed professionally. Thank you, Dr. Upton!
Image 13. Some more colleagues from Mayo Clinic Pathology (left to right): Dr. A. Ravindran, Dr. D. Larson, Dr. J. Dalland, and myself. These folks were very busy with all the great hematology sessions at the SHEAHP2019 meeting.
Image 14: No ASCP Annual Meeting would be complete without the leadership, passion, and vision of our CEO Dr. Blair Holladay. He, his leadership team, and this organization have been integral in my path to pathology and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future!

Social media has become so valuable in our field. Not just for networking, but sharing cases, impressions, publications, and more! It’s so easy to rally behind a hashtag and support a cause in so many instances—why not in our profession? Get involved, be an active voice for your own practice as well as your colleagues.

If you want to learn more about the sessions you may have missed, download the ASCP2019 app from the Apple App Store or Google App Store!

Thanks for reading! See you on social media, because when we communicate and collaborate, we are #StrongerTogether! I’m on twitter at @CKanakis, until next time!

–Constantine E. Kanakis MSc, MLS (ASCP)CM graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a BS in Molecular Biology and Bioethics and then Rush University with an MS in Medical Laboratory Science. He is currently a medical student actively involved in public health and laboratory medicine, conducting clinicals at Bronx-Care Hospital Center in New York City.

Surgical Pathology Case Study: A 2.5 Year Old Male Who Presents with Jaundice and Pruritus

Case History

The patient is a 2.5 year old male who is being evaluated for a liver transplant versus biliary diversion surgery. The patient was born at 2 kilograms and went home with mom one week after birth. The patient was readmitted back to the hospital for evaluation of jaundice and since then the patient has been intermittently hospitalized for episodes of worsening jaundice, acholic stools, scleral icterus, and pruritus. At 5 months of age, the patient was diagnosed with progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis, type 2, and was placed on the liver transplant list. As a result of the liver failure, the patient has developed coagulopathy, hypocalcemia resulting in seizures, and pruritus. The family history is significant for no known congenital liver diseases.

Table 1. Pertinent lab findings.

The father was worked up for living donation and was found to be a suitable donor, and is donating the left lateral segment of his liver.

Diagnosis

Received in the Surgical Pathology laboratory is a 700 gm, 23.5 x 14.5 x 3.5 cm explanted liver with an attached 4.5 x 1.2 x 0.4 cm gallbladder. The liver specimen has a smooth, green-red liver capsule without any grossly identifiable nodules or lesions (Image 1). The gallbladder has a yellow-pink external surface and is opened to reveal a 1.5 x 0.7 x 0.4 cm dark brown stone with a small amount of brown-yellow bile fluid. The liver is sectioned to reveal a smooth green-red cut surface (Image 2). No lesions are identified and minimal hilar structures are included with the specimen. Portions of the specimen have been taken for electron microscopy and frozen for future diagnostic purposes. Submitted sections include:

Cassette 1 and 2:   Hilar structures

Cassettes 3-15:   Representative sections of liver parenchyma

Cassette 16:   representative section of gallbladder

Image 1. Posterior aspect of green-tinged liver
Image 2. Cut section of liver

On microscopy, the trichrome stain highlights the presence of portal and centrilobular fibrosis, with focal bridging. However, regenerative nodule formation is not evident. The portal tracts contain sparse mononuclear cell infiltrates. Significant bile ductular proliferation is also evident, as confirmed by a CK7 immunostain. However, the native bile ducts appear unremarkable. There is also considerable hepatocellular and canalicular cholestasis in the centrilobular regions. Occasional multinucleated hepatocytes are also seen within the centrolobular zones. No steatosis is evident.

This constellation of histologic features is consistent with the clinical history of progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis, type II.

Discussion

Progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis (PFIC) is a group of autosomal recessive disorders that affects bile formation and results in cholestasis of the liver, usually beginning in infancy and childhood. There are three types of PFIC, each related to a mutation in the liver transport system genes that are involved in bile formation. PFIC type 1 (PFIC1), which is also referred to as Byler disease, is due to impaired bile salt secretion related to a ATP8B1 gene that encodes the FIC1 protein. PFIC type 2 (PFIC2), which is referred to as Byler syndrome, is due to impaired bile salt secretion (similar to type 1), but is related to the ABCB11 gene that encodes the bile salt export pump, or BSEP. PFIC type 3 (PFIC3) is due to impaired biliary phospholipid secretion that is related to a defect in the ABCB4 gene that encodes the multi-drug resistant 3 protein, or MDR3.

PFIC is suspected to be the cause of cholestasis in 10-15% of children, and is also the underlying cause of liver transplants in 10-15% of children. The exact prevalence remains unknown, but is estimated to be between 1 in every 50,000-100,000 births. PFIC1 and PFIC2 account for 2/3 of all PFIC cases, with PFIC3 making up the other 1/3. PFIC is present worldwide, and there does not appear to be a gender predilection.

The main clinical manifestation in all forms of PFIC, hence the name, is cholestasis, and will usually appear in the first few months of life with PFIC1 and PFIC2. Recurring episodes of jaundice are also present in PFIC1, whereas permanent jaundice and a rapid evolution to liver failure are characteristic of PFIC2. In PFIC3, cholestasis is noted within the first year of life in 1/3 of all cases, but rarely will be present in the neonatal period. PFIC3 can also present later in infancy, childhood or even early adulthood, with gastrointestinal bleeding due to portal hypertension and cirrhosis being the main symptoms that the patient would present with. Pruritus is severe in PFIC 1 and 2, but has a more mild presentation in PFIC3. There have been multiple cases reported of hepatocellular carcinoma that are associated with PFIC2, but there so far have not been any cases of hepatocellular carcinoma reported that are associated with PFIC3. Other signs and symptoms that may be present in PFIC1 include short stature, deafness, diarrhea, pancreatitis and liver steatosis. When examining clinical laboratory results, patients with PFIC1 and PFIC 2 will have normal serum gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT) levels, but patients with PFIC3 will have elevated GGT levels. PFIC1 and PFIC2 can be differentiated from each other by the higher transaminase and alpha-fetoprotein levels that are found in PFIC2. When analyzing the biliary bile salt concentrations, PFIC1 will have mildly decreased levels (3-8 mM), PFIC2 will have drastically decreased levels (<1 mM), and PFIC3 will have normal levels. In addition, the biliary bile salt:phospholipid ratio and the cholesterol:phospholipid ratio will be approximately 5 times higher in PFIC3 than in normal bile, due to the biliary phospholipid levels being dramatically decreased (normal phospholipid range = 19-24%, PFIC phospholipid range = 1-15%).

Histologically, PFIC1 and PFIC 2 will have canalicular cholestasis, an absence of true ductular proliferation, and periportal biliary metaplasia of the hepatocytes. In PFIC2, these manifestations are much more worrisome with more marked lobular and portal fibrosis, and inflammation, as well as having much more pronounced necrosis and giant cell transformation (Images 3 and 4). PFIC3 will show portal fibrosis and true ductal proliferation, with a mixed inflammatory infiltrate. In addition, cholestasis can be present in the lobule and in some of the ductules that contain bile plugs. Cytokeratin staining can help confirm the ductular proliferation within the portal tract. Mild or absent canalicular staining with BSEP and MDR3 antibodies will help to diagnose PFIC2 and PFIC3, respectively.

Image 3. Photomicrograph demonstrating cholestasis, centrilobular necrosis, lobular inflammation, and giant cells (H&E)
Image 4. Photomicrograph demonstrating portal, centrilobular and bridging fibrosis (Trichrome)

A diagnosis of PFIC is based on the clinical manifestations, liver ultrasonography, cholangiography and liver histology, as well as on specific tests for excluding other causes of childhood cholestasis (such as biliary atresia, Alagille syndrome, cystic fibrosis and alpha-1 antitrypsine deficiency). Ultrasonography of the liver will be normal with the exception of a possible dilated gallbladder. At the time of the liver biopsy, a portion of tissue can be submitted for electron microscopy, which in the case of PFIC, can show canalicular dilatation, microvilli loss, abnormal mitochondrial internal structures, and varying intra-canalicular accumulations of bile. PFIC1 will have coarsely, granular bile on electron microscopy, whereas PFIC2 will have a more amorphous appearance. If biliary obstruction is noted on the liver biopsy, a cholangiography will need to be performed to exclude sclerosing cholangitis. If a normal biliary tree is observed, as in PFIC, bile can be collected for biliary bile salt analysis (which was discussed earlier in the laboratory results section). Differentiating between PFIC1, PFIC2 and PFIC3 can be quite troublesome, but luckily Davit-Spraul, Gonzales, Baussan and Jacquemin proposed a fantastic schematic for the clinical diagnosis of PFIC, which is presented as Figure 1.

Figure 1. Schematic proposed for the clinical diagnosis of progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis

Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) therapy should be considered in all patients with PFIC to prevent liver damage and provide relief from pruritus. Rifampicin and Cholestyramine can help in cases of PFIC3, but have been found to provide no improvement in PFIC1 or PFIC2. In some PFIC1 or PFIC2 patients, biliary diversion can also relieve pruritus and slow disease progression. The total caloric intake should be around 125% of the recommended daily allowance. Dietary fats should come in the form of medium chain triglycerides, and care should be taken to check the patient’s vitamin levels to look for signs of vitamin deficiency. Patients with PFIC2 should be monitored for hepatocellular carcinoma, beginning from the first year of life. Ultimately, most PFIC patients develop fibrosis and end-stage liver disease before adulthood, and are candidates for liver transplantation. Diarrhea, steatosis and short stature may not improve after liver transplantation, and could become aggravated from the procedure. Hepatocyte transplantation, gene therapy or specific targeted pharmacotherapy are possible alternative therapies for PFIC, but will require more research and studies to determine whether they are viable options.

References

  1. Davit-Spraul A, Gonzales E, Baussan C, Jacquemin E. Progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis. Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2009;4(1). doi:10.1186/1750-1172-4-1
  2. Evason K, Bove KE, Finegold MJ, et al. Morphologic findings in progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis 2 (PFIC2): correlation with genetic and immunohistochemical studies. Am J Surg Pathol. 2011;35(5):687–696. doi:10.1097/PAS.0b013e318212ec87
  3. Srivastava A. Progressive Familial Intrahepatic Cholestasis. J Clin Exp Hepatol. 2013;4(1):25-36. doi: 10.1016/j.jceh.2013.10.005

-Cory Nash is a board certified Pathologists’ Assistant, specializing in surgical and gross pathology. He currently works as a Pathologists’ Assistant at the University of Chicago Medical Center. His job involves the macroscopic examination, dissection and tissue submission of surgical specimens, ranging from biopsies to multi-organ resections. Cory has a special interest in head and neck pathology, as well as bone and soft tissue pathology. Cory can be followed on twitter at @iplaywithorgans.

Surgical Pathology Case Study: A 63 Year Old Male with a ~60 Year Recurring Neck Mass

Case History

A 63 year old man presented with a long standing history of a recurring pleomorphic adenoma of the parotid gland. As a child, the patient had radiotherapy to the bilateral parotid glands for parotid swelling. He then developed a left parotid mass ~15 years later and underwent parotidectomy. After another recurrence ~15 years after the initial parotidectomy, he underwent a second resection of multiple masses in the preauricular region. The patient then developed a recurrence ~20 years after the second resection and underwent neutron beam therapy. The patient tolerated the treatment well noting mild dry mouth, which is persistent, and left ear pain, but otherwise has no major long-term sequelae from the treatment. Eighteen years after the neutron beam therapy, the patient developed a left submandibular mass. A subsequent biopsy of the mass revealed a pleomorphic adenoma.  Enlarged left and right submental and submandibular nodes were noted, with biopsies performed at an outside hospital of these nodes demonstrating metastatic poorly differentiated carcinoma within three lymph nodes. It was noted on this pathology report that the histological features, in light of the history, could represent a carcinoma ex pleomorphic adenoma. A CT scan of the head and neck revealed a large multiloculated, cystic, rim-enhancing mass within the left parotid gland, as well as large enhancing lymph nodes within the right anterior and posterior cervical triangle and the right submandibular space, the largest of which measured 2.1 cm. A PET scan showed increased activity within the right neck. Upon meeting with otolaryngology, a 4.0 x 7.0 cm lobular, non-fixed left parotid mass, and two level 1B right sided nodes, were palpated. Based on the patient’s history, physical exam, and prior biopsy results, it was decided to proceed with a parotidectomy and bilateral neck dissection. 

Diagnosis

Received in the Surgical Pathology laboratory is a soft tissue mass resection from the area of the left parotid gland measuring 9.0 x 6.0 x 4.2 cm. The specimen is oriented by a single long stitch designating the superior aspect, and a double long stitch designating the lateral aspect (Figure 1). The specimen is entirely inked black, and then bisected to reveal multiple discrete, white-tan, partially cystic masses ranging in size from 0.2-4.0 cm in greatest dimension and measuring 7.0 x 3.5 x 3.0 cm in aggregate dimension (Figure 2). The largest mass is partially cystic with the cystic component measuring 1.2 cm in greatest dimension. This largest mass abuts the anterior, medial and lateral margins. The remaining tumor deposits are located:

– 1.2 cm from the inferior margin

– 0.4 cm from the superior margin

– 0.9 cm from the posterior margin

No gross salivary gland tissue is identified. The remainder of the specimen consists of unremarkable yellow adipose tissue and red-brown skeletal muscle. The specimen is submitted as follows.

Cassette 1:   superior margin

Cassette 2:   representative sections of anterior margin

Cassette 3:   anterior superior margin

Cassette 4:   anterior inferior margin

Cassette 5:   posterior margin

Cassette 6-9:   representative sections of mass with approach to lateral margin

Cassette 10:   representative sections of mass with approach to medial margin

Cassette 11:   mass in relation to surrounding skeletal muscle

Cassette12-15:   representative sections of mass

On microscopy, the specimen contains nests of tumor cells ranging in size from 0.2 to 4.0 cm within a dense fibrous matrix. Although these deposits may represent lymph node metastases, no residual lymphoid tissue is present. The tumor is represented by residual pleomorphic adenoma and numerous soft tissue deposits of pleomorphic adenoma (Figure 3). Admixed are broad areas of high grade carcinoma with necrosis (Figure 4). Most regions show adenocarcinoma, although a rare focus of squamous differentiation is also present. The lateral margin is positive for carcinoma, and a pleomorphic adenoma component approaches within 0.1 cm of the medial margin. The anterior, posterior, inferior, and superior margins are all free of tumor. No salivary gland tissue is identified.

In addition, eleven frozen sections are submitted from various areas surrounding the mass, with five of the eleven frozen sections demonstrating tumor deposits. A right neck dissection is performed with following results:

Level IB: 2 of 3 positive (largest deposit: 1.8 cm)

Level II and III: 1 of 14 positive, Level II (1.9cm)

Level IV: 1 of 8 positive (2.0 cm)

Based on these results, the specimen was signed out as carcinoma ex-pleomorphic adenoma, and designated as pT4aN2cMx

Figure 3. 2x photomicrograph showing a classic appearing pleomorphic adenoma with satellite nodules along the periphery

Discussion

Carcinoma ex pleomorphic adenoma (CXPA) is a carcinoma that arises in a primary (de novo) or recurrent benign pleomorphic adenoma (PA). While a PA is the most common salivary gland tumor, accounting for approximately 80% of all benign salivary gland tumors, a CXPA is quite uncommon, accounting for only 3.6% of all salivary gland tumors. CXPA is predominantly found in the sixth to eighth decades of life, with a slight predilection for females. CXPA arises most commonly in the salivary glands, in particular the parotid and the submandibular glands. CXPA can also arise in the minor salivary glands in the oral cavity, although these tumors tend to be smaller than their counterparts in the parotid and submandibular gland. There have also been cases of CXPA in the breast, lacrimal gland, trachea, and nasal cavity.

Clinically, CXPA presents as a firm, asymptomatic mass that can go undetected for years since they are not generally invasive. When the patient does experience any symptoms, with pain being the most common, it is usually due to the mass extending to adjacent structures. If the mass was to involve the facial nerve, paresis or palsy can occur. Other signs and symptoms include skin ulceration, mass enlargement, skin fixation, lymphadenopathy, dental pain, and dysphagia. The onset of symptoms can range anywhere from 1 month up to 60 years (such as with this case), with a mean onset of 9 years. Half of patients will have a painless mass for less than 1 year. Since these symptoms are similar to those of a benign PA, it’s important that the treating physician be aware of the possibility of a CXPA, especially considering the rarity of the cancer.

Grossly, CXPA appears as a firm, ill-defined tumor, and can vary greatly depending on the predominant component. If the PA is the predominant component, the mass may appear gray-blue and translucent, and it could be possible to grossly differentiate between the PA areas and the CXPA areas. If the malignant component predominates, then the mass may contain cystic, hemorrhagic and necrotic areas.

Microscopically, CXPA is defined as having a mixture of a benign PA, admixed with carcinomatous components. Zbaren et al, in an analysis of 19 CXPA cases, found 21% of the tumors were composed of less than 33% carcinoma, 37% of the tumors were composed of 33-66% carcinoma, and 42% of the tumors were composed of greater than 66% carcinoma. Most often, the malignant component is adenocarcinoma, but can also include adenoid cystic carcinoma, mucoepidermoid carcinoma, salivary duct carcinoma, and other less common variations. In cases where the entire tumor is replaced by carcinoma, the diagnosis of CXPA will be based on the presence of a PA on the previous biopsy. Conversely, you could also have a tumor that is predominately composed of a PA, with sparse areas of malignant transformation, such as nuclear pleomorphism, atypical mitotic figures, hemorrhage and necrosis. The likelihood of malignant transformation increases with the length of the PA being present, from 1.5% at 5 years, up to 10% after 15 years.

CXPA can be further sub-divided into four categories based on the extent of invasion of the carcinomatous component outside the capsule: in-situ, non-invasive, minimally invasive, and invasive carcinoma.

#1) In-situ carcinoma occurs when nuclear pleomorphism and atypical mitotic figures are found within the epithelial cells, but do not extend out beyond the border of the myoepithelial cells (Figure 5).

#2) Non-invasive CXPA, which can include in-situ carcinoma, is maintained within the fibrous capsule of the PA, but extends beyond the confines of the myoepithelial cells. Non-invasive CXPA may begin to show malignant transformation, but will overall behave like a benign PA.

#3) Minimally invasive CXPA is defined as <1.5 mm extension into the extracapsular tissue, with a mix of benign PA components and carcinomatous components.

#4) Invasive CXPA is defined as a > 1.5 mm extension into the extracapsular tissue, and will begin to demonstrate more carcinomatous components, such as hemorrhage and necrosis.

As the carcinomatous areas begin to increase in prevalence, the PA nodules will begin to be composed of hyalinized tissue with sparse, scattered ductal structures, and the malignant cells will begin to decrease in size as they move away from the site of origin. Perineural and vascular invasion can be easily identified as the tumor extends into the neighboring tissue (Figure 6).

The development of CXPA has been shown to follow a multi-step model of carcinogenesis with a loss of heterozygosity at chromosomal arms 8q, followed by 12q, and finally 17p. Both PA and CXPA demonstrate the same loss of heterozygosity, however, the carcinomatous components exhibit a slightly higher loss of heterozygosity at 8q, and a significantly higher loss of heterozygosity at 12q and 17q. The early alterations of the chromosomal arm 8q in a PA often involves PLAG1 and MYC, with the malignant transformation of the PA to a CXPA being associated with the 12q genes HMGA2 and MDM2.

Treatment for CXPA involves surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, with a parotidectomy being the most common procedure performed. If a benign PA had originally been resected, but residual remnants of the PA were left behind, then satellite PA nodules will arise in its place (Figure 3). If in-situ, non-invasive or minimally invasive carcinoma is suspected in the superficial lobe of the parotid gland, than a superficial parotidectomy can be performed. Invasive carcinoma will result in a total parotidectomy, with every attempt made to try and preserve the facial nerve. If metastasis is suspected to the cervical lymph nodes, a neck dissection may also be performed. Reconstructive surgery following the removal of the tumor may be necessary, depending on where the tumor was resected from. Other treatment options currently being considered include a combination therapy of trastuzumab and capecitabine, as well as the possibility of a WT1 peptide based immunotherapy.

Figure 5. 40x microphotograph demonstrating an in-situ carcinoma confined within the myoepithelial cells
Figure 6. 10x photomicrograph of carcinoma at the lateral margin with areas of perineural invasion

References

  1. Antony J, Gopalan V, Smith RA, Lam AK. Carcinoma ex pleomorphic adenoma: a comprehensive review of clinical, pathological and molecular data. Head Neck Pathol. 2011;6(1):1–9. doi:10.1007/s12105-011-0281-z
  2. Chooback N, Shen Y, Jones M, et al. Carcinoma ex pleomorphic adenoma: case report and options for systemic therapy. Curr Oncol. 2017;24(3):e251–e254. doi:10.3747/co.24.3588
  3. Di Palma S. Carcinoma ex pleomorphic adenoma, with particular emphasis on early lesions. Head Neck Pathol. 2013;7 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S68–S76. doi:10.1007/s12105-013-0454-z
  4. Handra-Luca A. Malignant mixed tumor. Pathology Outlines. http://www.pathologyoutlines.com/topic/salivaryglandsmalignantmixedtumor.html. Revised March 21, 2019. Accessed April 5, 2019.

-Cory Nash is a board certified Pathologists’ Assistant, specializing in surgical and gross pathology. He currently works as a Pathologists’ Assistant at the University of Chicago Medical Center. His job involves the macroscopic examination, dissection and tissue submission of surgical specimens, ranging from biopsies to multi-organ resections. Cory has a special interest in head and neck pathology, as well as bone and soft tissue pathology. Cory can be followed on twitter at @iplaywithorgans.

Gastric Cancer: A Multidisciplinary Approach

Maryam Zenali1*, Dmitriy Akselrod2, Eric Ganguly3, Eswar Tipirneni4 and Christopher J. Anker5*

1 Department of Pathology, 2 Department of Radiology, 3 Division of Gastroenterology, and 5 Division of Radiation Oncology, The University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC), Burlington, VT and 4 Department of Hematology Oncology, Central Vermont Medical Center (CVMC), The University Of Vermont Health Network, Adult Primary Care, Berlin, VT

*corresponding authors

A 57 year old woman with a personal and family history of breast cancer presented with early satiety and dysphagia for 5 months. Her abdominal computed tomography (CT) scan (Image 1 A) showed marked thickening of an apparently featureless gastric wall (A, blue arrows indicating the mucosal [rightward pointing] and serosal [leftward pointing] aspects of the gastric wall). Prominent gastrohepatic lymph nodes were noted as well. Her fluoroscopic upper GI study (Image1 B), following administration of barium and effervescent crystals (a double contrast effect to allow for mucosal evaluation), showed thickened rugal folds (B red arrow) and pooling of barium within an antral ulcer (B blue arrow). A subsequent CT scan (Image 1 C) after administration of intravenous and enteric contrast, confirmed marked diffuse gastric wall thickening (C blue arrows again indicating the mucosal [rightward pointing] and serosal [leftward pointing] aspects of the gastric wall) (Image 1, composite radiographs A-C).

The gastric body distended poorly with insufflation and demonstrated thickened, erythematous, edematous folds with erosions (Image 2, endoscopy image). On endoscopic ultrasound, the total thickness of the stomach was 12 mm with expanded wall layers in the proximal stomach to the antrum and a thickness of 3.5 mm in spared areas. Biopsies were obtained; the corresponding H&E and keratin stains are provided (Image 3, composite photomicrographs A-B).

Image 1. Composite radiographs.
Image 2. Endoscopy image.
Image 3. Composite photomicrographs.

Based on the original radiographic imaging that led to the biopsy, what are the differential diagnoses?

Surgical Pathology Case Study: A 42 Year Old Woman with an Enlarging Mass of the Forearm

Case History

A 42 year old female with a history of neurofibromatosis, hypertension and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis had noted a mass on her forearm approximately 15 years ago. According to the patient, the mass did not change in size and did not cause her any discomfort during that time. Approximately 6 months prior to presenting to her primary physician, the mass began to increase in size and caused discomfort and pain. Upon examination with the Orthopedic Surgery department, a 20 x 20 cm firm, smooth mass on her forearm with mild pain on palpation was noted (Image 1). On MRI, the mass appeared to partially surround the radius and ulna, and encased the median, radial and ulnar nerves. A needle core biopsy was subsequently performed on the mass revealing a high grade malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor (MPNST). A CT scan of the chest showed no evidence of metastatic disease. During her clinical visit, the use of neoadjuvant chemotherapy and chemoradiotherapy were discussed, but based on the large size of the mass, tumor response would have to be significant in order to allow for limb conserving surgery. At the time that the patient was seen, MPNSTs were not known to be chemosensitive and the chances of significant tumor response was very low (clinical drug trials have since shown some improvements in this area). In light of the poor response to systemic therapy of these tumors and the potentially toxic side effects of chemotherapy, the decision was made to proceed with amputation of the arm through the humerus.

Diagnosis

Frozen sections were sent from all the major peripheral nerves, including the ulnar, radial and median nerves. There was no evidence of any tumor consistent with a high-grade MPNST, although there was evidence of neurofibromas. There were atypical cells with hyperchromasia in the ulnar nerve margin, however, this was not considered to be consistent with a high grade MPNST. Received in the surgical pathology lab was an above elbow amputation consisting of a 30.0 cm long distal arm, an attached hand measuring 17.0 cm in maximum length., and a 4.5 cm long exposed humerus. The specimen is covered by grossly unremarkable skin, with a palpable mass in the mid-portion of the forearm. Sectioning reveals an 18.0 x 12.0 x 11.0 cm well-circumscribed mass composed of bulging, myxoid, white-tan tissue with central areas of hemorrhagic degeneration and yellow-tan friable tissue (Image 2). The bulging white-tan tissue is mainly found peripherally and encompasses approximately two-thirds of the mass. The mass is confined to a thin translucent lining and does not grossly invade neighboring soft tissue or overlying skin. The radial, median and ulnar nerves are adjacent to but not invaded by the mass, although the distal aspect of the mass shares a translucent, myxoid-like tissue with the peripheral nerve sheath of the ulnar and median nerves.

In addition to the standard bone and soft tissue margins that are taken, representative sections of the mass with the closest approach to the overlying skin are submitted. Sections demonstrating the relationship of the distal mass to the radial, median and ulnar nerves are submitted in separate cassettes. Lastly, representative sections sampled from various areas of the mass are submitted in an additional 15 blocks.

Histologically, the tumor consisted of spindle cells arranged in a fascicular pattern with intermittent whorled areas. The cells contained pleomorphic, hyperchromatic nuclei and intervening myxoid hypocellular areas. Mitotic figures were observed with sparse areas of necrosis and hemorrhage. S-100 was ordered on the prior biopsy of the mass, which was weakly positive. Based on these findings, the specimen was signed out as a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor.

Image 1. Above elbow amputation with a large forearm mass.
Image 2. Longitudinal cross section of arm demonstrating a bulging, white-tan mass with areas of hemorrhage and necrosis.

Discussion

Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors (MPNST) are locally invasive tumors that are associated with medium to large nerves (as opposed to cranial or distal small verves) and commonly recur with eventual metastatic spread. Common sites for metastatic spread include lung, liver, brain, bones and adrenals. They are usually found in adults between the second and fifth decades of life, and account for only 5% of malignant soft tissue tumors. Approximately half of MPNSTs will occur sporadically, with the other half generally arising in the setting of neurofibromatosis type 1 (such as in this case). There is a high clinical suspicion for MPNST if the patient has a history of neurofibromatosis type 1 or if the tumor arises within a major nerve component.

Grossly, MPNST will present as a large, poorly defined, fleshy tumor that runs along a nerve and involves adjacent soft tissue. Often, these tumors will have areas of hemorrhage or necrosis and can track along the length of a nerve. Histologically, the tumors are composed of monomorphic spindle cells arranged in fascicles, palisades and whorls, with compact comma-shaped, wavy or buckled hyperchromatic nuclei with alternating hypocellular foci. (Image 3 and 4). Mitotic figures and necrosis are common, and although S-100 is considered the best marker for MPNST, there is a lack of specificity and sensitivity for immunohistochemical markers. Due to the lack of immunohistochemical markers and molecular findings, as well as the variability associated with the cells, it has traditionally been difficult to diagnose MPNST. The differential diagnosis includes fibrosarcoma, monophasic synovial sarcoma, desmoplastic melanoma, and pleomorphic liposarcoma. Goldblum et al put forth the idea that a diagnosis of MPNST can be made if the tumor falls into any one of the following three categories:

  1. The tumor arises along a peripheral nerve
  2. The tumor arises from a pre-existing benign nerve sheath tumor, such as a neurofibroma
  3. The histologic features are consistent with a malignant Schwann cell tumor

Unfortunately, due to the aggressiveness of the tumor and high recurrence rate, MPNST has a poor prognosis with a 2 year overall survival rate of around 57% and a 5 year survival rate around 39%.

Image 3. Low power photomicrograph showing a spindle cell neoplasm arranged in a fascicular pattern.
Image 4. High power photomicrograph demonstrating spindle cells with hypercellular nuclei in a whorled arrangement and adjacent myxoid hypocellular areas.

References

  1. Case of the week #443. Pathology Outlines. http://www.pathologyoutlines.com/caseofweek/case443.htm. Published November 15, 2017. Accessed March 10, 2019.
  2. Frosch MP, Anthony DC, De Girolami U. Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor. In: Kumar V, Abbas AK, Fausto N, Aster JC. Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease, 8th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier, Inc. 2010: 1341-1342
  3. Guo A, Liu A, Wei L, Song X. Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumors: Differentiation Patterns and Immunohistochemical Features – A Mini-Review and Our New Findings. J Cancer. 2012; 3:303-309. http://www.jcancer.org/v03p0303.html. Accessed March 9, 2019.
  4. Hirbe AC, Cosper PF, Dahiya S, Van Tine BA. Neoadjuvant Ifosfamide and Epirubicin in the Treatment of Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumors. Sarcoma. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/sarcoma/2017/3761292/cta/. Accessed March 10, 2019.
  5. Ramnani, DM. Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor. WebPathology. https://www.webpathology.com/case.asp?case=499. Accessed March 9, 2019.
  6. Shankar V. Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor (MPNST). Pathology Outlines. http://www.pathologyoutlines.com/topic/softtissuempnst.html. Revised September 12, 2018. Accessed March 9, 2019.

-Cory Nash is a board certified Pathologists’ Assistant, specializing in surgical and gross pathology. He currently works as a Pathologists’ Assistant at the University of Chicago Medical Center. His job involves the macroscopic examination, dissection and tissue submission of surgical specimens, ranging from biopsies to multi-organ resections. Cory has a special interest in head and neck pathology, as well as bone and soft tissue pathology. Cory can be followed on twitter at @iplaywithorgans.

Just Say Know! From Mentoring to High Performance: A Resident Perspective

As pathologists, we are responsible for increasingly intricate anatomic pathology and clinical laboratory services in a continually changing healthcare landscape that requires us to integrate emerging technologies for improved quality of medical care while also being hypervigilant to cost control and efficiency. Hospital systems working under managed care business models seek to expand their coverage networks and boost the number of patients served, and as such, it is going to be very critical for the next generation of pathologists to develop and implement the management skills and techniques necessary to effectively advocate for investment in their departments and meet such goals.

The problem, however, is that we are largely shielded from these issues during our undergraduate and even graduate medical education experiences. We focus, of course, on the basic sciences and clinical skills, which are undeniably important; however, we get significantly less instruction or discussion on functioning within our health care system, addressing quality issues, or general leadership training that is indispensable and highly valuable for practicing physicians.

Earlier in the summer, I saw a number of pathology folks on Twitter promoting and strongly encouraging residents to apply for the two-day “Just Say Know! From Mentoring to High Performance” program, formed through collaboration between ASCP and USCAP, on an approach to leadership, management, and business for pathology. I was highly intrigued and had a feeling this program was the sort of experience for which I had been looking. Traveling to Palm Springs in the middle of the Chicago winter was not a bad deal either!

Drs. Blair Holladay and David Kaminsky assembled an impressive collection of speakers for the weekend, which was divided into four focus areas: leadership, management, business and policy, and change. After an engaging introduction by Drs. Holladay and Kaminsky, current trainees Drs. Kabeer Shah and Melissa Hogan set the stage by highlighting the increasing importance of “management” and “leadership” as reflected in the ACGME milestones as well as recent literature suggesting expectations for newly-trained pathologists include these very skills (Post et al. Arch Pathol Lab Med 2017;141: 193-202).Above all, they encouraged all of the thirty residents and fellows in attendance to “be honest, be open, and be vulnerable,” and ask the tough questions of themselves to gain the most from the weekend.

Lotte Mulder from ASCP led an enlightening discussion on the differences between emotional intelligence (EI) and conventional IQ, as well as the critical need to be self-aware of how our emotions can affect our performance and to understand the extent of our own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Dr. Karen Kaul followed with a very timely overview of strategies for identifying mentors. She discussed how our mentorship needs will evolve over the course of our careers and that fulfilling the mentor role for another junior individual while having your own mentors is key to the professional development necessary in leadership positions.

 After lunch, Dr. Dan Milner from ASCP took us through some very interesting global health case studies that forced our group to think critically about the role of pathology and the clinical laboratory in underserved settings as well as the major obstacles and economic disparities that must be considered. There were a number of important teaching points from Dr. Milner’s international cases that will be equally helpful for understanding the disparities we encounter right here in our backyard.

Dr .Yael Heher led off the afternoon management focus series with a really comprehensive look into how she has championed quality improvement and patient safety reviews at her institution to address root causes for laboratory errors, followed by a well-timed interactive session in which we divided into groups to use the six sigma methodology to work in concrete steps through a real-life laboratory error. It was a great opportunity to see people from different institutions and backgrounds bring unique perspectives to a common problem. The first day of the program concluded with a very unique session on art and leadership in which Dr. Kaminsky led us into Downtown Palm Springs to view the Palm Springs Babies art installation set up by David Cerny. Our powers of observation as pathologists were put to the test as we were asked to describe and interpret the meanings behind the exhibit in the same way that we often use visual evidence in our day-to-day work.

The second day of the program focused on business and policy with talks by Dr. Gary Procop on how pathologists can help integrate interventions into the laboratory to improve system-level metrics and by Khosrow Shotorbani on how laboratory data can be used to optimize laboratory services in the model of the rideshare service, Uber. The morning also included an interactive session on negotiation skills, in which each of us assumed the roles of departmental chair and owner of a private practice group negotiating with newly-hired pathologists. The weekend concluded with Dr. Nathan Johnson’s 18 steps to make change a part of an organizational culture, which was based on his experiences in academic research, military operational theory, and real-life lab experiences.

The weekend provided an incredibly impactful and high-yield array of discussions, so much so that I am already finding myself applying many of the strategies and techniques described over the weekend in my role as chief resident as well as to some of the changes and initiatives that I am hoping to bring to our department. Most important, though, were the opportunities to interact with my peers from around the country. We all face similar challenges as residents, and the opportunity to learn each other’s perspectives and approaches to similar issues was just as illuminating as the structured portions of the program. I hope that the ASCP and USCAP continue to offer the Just Say Know! Program and enthusiastically join all those pathology folks on social media promoting the program last summer with my own strong recommendation to challenge yourself and be open to new ways of learning by considering participating in this event!

From Twitter, @Blair_Holladay, December 12, 2018
Photo by Imran Uraizee

-Imran Uraizee, MD, is currently chief resident and a third-year anatomic and clinical pathology resident at the University of Chicago. He also manages the Department of Pathology Twitter account, @UChicagoPath. He majored in Biology at Duke University before earning his MD at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Dr. Uraizee can be followed on Twitter at @IUraizee3MD.

Dead Wrong About Forensic Pathology

(•_•)         ( •_•)>⌐■-■       (⌐■_■)

[Puts my sunglasses on dramatically]

[Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who plays]

Image 1. Looks like this medical lab science blogger made quite the … shady… joke. CSI: Miami’s Lt. Horatio Caine (played by David Caruso) donned his shades at pivotal plot times. (Source: CBS)

Okay-okay, I couldn’t resist that. How many times have you just wanted a CSI-style joke on here? No? Just me? That’s fine…

Hello again everybody! Welcome back! Last month I talked a bit about “Just Culture,” a sort of bridge between the values we tout as clinical leaders in our laboratories and the medical culture’s evolving and value-informed paradigm shift. There was a little in there about the lessons paralleled in LMU and the benefits of interdisciplinary teamwork. This month, on the subject of interdisciplinary collaboration, I’d like to talk about our colleagues who often are secluded or in more remote areas in our hospitals, offices, and academic centers. Not here to stereotype; I’m talking about our friends in forensic pathology!

Before I get there, let me go back a bit. I’ve already written several times about the stereotypes that surround our field of lab medicine and there are two times when that is glaringly present: when you’re a medical student or when you’re in forensics. I got the chance to meet someone who falls into both categories.

I’ve just finished up my OB/GYN rotation. But before my last day, I went to the lab at our hospital and followed up on some pending biopsy results. Okay, I can’t lie to you guys: they wanted me to see if I could rush “my lab friends” to expedite the process of fixing, setting, cutting, staining, and reading/reporting—because that’s possible. So, I went to the lab and had a pleasant chat with the staff explaining the situation and they were happy to help. While I was there, however, I happened to see another short white coat (ironically from my same school) who was helping some lab personnel with some grossing. Turns out she wants to match into a pathology residency—just like me—and specifically was interested in forensic path, a field which I don’t know much about. After talking more, I asked if she’d like to share some information. Here’s my conversation with Kyla Jorgenson, a 3rd year medical student at AUC-SOM from Toronto, Canada:

I get lots of hassle when I say I want to become a pathologist. People often ask me, “what’s your back up choice” or “don’t you like patients?” It can be a challenge. What’s your experience been like?

You want to do autopsies, so you want to be a mortician, right? Not quite. Many times, I’ve been faced with blank stares when I say I want to be a forensic pathologist. Other times I get the other end of the spectrum, that’s so cool! Clearly, they’ve seen a few crime-shows and think that I’ll get to go to crime scenes in stiletto high heeled shoes with a song by The Who playing in the background as I arrive. Even today when talking with a dermatopathologist I got a, “well when you realize that hanging out with dead bodies every day isn’t the greatest, you might consider surg path.” Then after hearing my experience as an autopsy assistant and that I’m sure this is what I want to do it was the resigned sigh signalling that I was a lost cause already.

A “lost cause,” that’s frustrating. A lot of specialities rag on other ones, it seems to be part of the culture of medicine—hopefully not forever, but still can’t we all just get along?

So, my background leading to pathology involved me working for several years between college, graduate school, and medical school; in hospitals of various sizes. I have personal experiences in these fields and sort of feel “at home” when I’m dealing with hematopathology, transfusion medicine, cell therapy—that sort of thing. What piqued your interest in forensics?

I started my undergraduate degree in forensic biology at the University of Toronto in the fall of 2008 just as a major review of pediatric forensic pathology in Ontario was being released. After numerous issues came to light, the inquiry looked at policies, procedures, practices, accountability and oversight mechanisms, quality control measures and institutional arrangements within the field in Ontario from 1981 to 2001. Ontario Court of Appeal’s Honourable Justice Stephen T. Goudge developed 169 recommendations on how pediatric forensic pathology in Ontario needed to address and correct its systemic failings to restore public confidence.

(Read more about these inquiries here: https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/inquiries/goudge/index.html)

After studying the cases that prompted the inquiry and its recommendations in class, what left the greatest impression was the importance of having medicolegal autopsies performed by those trained in not just pathology, but specifically, forensic pathology. What I took away from the cases of accidental deaths falsely attributed as homicides due to lack of experience on behalf of the pathologist and other such issues, is that forensic pathology isn’t something to be dabbled in. While our patients are no longer alive, there are lives that can be affected by the work we do. In Ontario, false convictions not only stemmed from “junk science” but also from inadequacies in the training of pathologists working in a forensic capacity and also a general shortage of forensic pathologists.

Seems like a lot of us (of the few of us) who enter medical school knowing we want to go into pathology have to sort of wait their turn, as it were, collecting experiences which help make us competitive for residency matching—what keeps your “commitment algorithm” going?

Since discovering that forensic medicine is a career path as a high school student, I’ve geared my education towards training in forensics. First my undergraduate degree and then a side trip for my master’s degree in Forensic Death Scene Investigation and a job as a pathology technician at the Medical Examiner’s office on my way to medical school. I have in each step along the way, confirmed that both medicine and forensics fascinate me. Scroll through my Netflix account and you’ll find crime dramas (with the British shows being my favourite) or my podcast app filled with true crime shows; I am enraptured using science to figure out what happened.

Sidebar: at this point Kyla showed me a first-author published piece in the Journal of Forensic Sciences from 2017 that talked about law enforcement-involved firearm related deaths in Oklahoma, where she worked at the time. Basically, it showed through metadata analysis that gun-related deaths were on the rise. Not just over time, but number of times being shot. Remember when we talked about pathology’s role in the #StayInYourLane/#ThisIsOurLane discussion? Well which pathology speciality do you think works with this stuff directly? Chemistry? Cytology? Last time I checked GSWs don’t get screened for lead poisoning and you can’t FNA a bullet. Forensic pathology has often been tasked with seeing trends in morbidity and mortality and translating that to effective social and public health change: think seatbelts, stents, and maybe someday gun-related legislation changes.

Image 2a. Monthly aggregates of gun-related deaths over a 16-year period in OK. (Source: Jorgenson, K et al (2017) Trends in Officer-Involved Firearm Deaths in Oklahoma from 2000-2015, Journal of Forensic Sciences, doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.13499)
Image 2b. Number of gun shot wounds per victim over time. (Source: Jorgenson, K et al (2017) Trends in Officer-Involved Firearm Deaths in Oklahoma from 2000-2015, Journal of Forensic Sciences, doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.13499)

I was interested when I shadowed at the Cook County ME’s office a few years ago—I saw some cool things. I also remember learning a lot from the first real autopsy I saw in a hospital, ultimately it seems like a totally different field that maybe gets underappreciated even within the pathology umbrella. AP/CP residents have to do a certain number of autopsies to graduate, but the attitude I’ve noticed around the topic is a “necessary evil” and most are working towards not having to do that. So let me ask you definitively, why forensic pathology?

Medicine is science being applied to find out what happened in the body and how we can change or manipulate those variables to diagnose, prevent, treat and manage disease. Each diagnosis is solving a crime occurring within the cells in the body, if you will. In forensic medicine, not only do you get to do all that but add in the crime solving element and you get to be “Dr. Nancy Drew.” While medicolegal systems are different all over the US and Canada, chances are that as a forensic pathologist you won’t only be working on your stereotypical “forensics” cases, the gunshot wounds, stab wounds and other nefarious causes of deaths many associate with that term. You could get the generic, “cause of death atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, manner of death natural,” for a large proportion of cases.

It’s not glamorous, you could spend your day with a two-week-old decomposing decedent that has a pulsating maggot mass devouring its torso or documenting 51 stab wounds or signing out your cases after reviewing your histology and toxicology reports or testifying on a homicide case you worked on. But for me, those all sound like pretty interesting ways to spend the day, sign me up. As a pathology technician assisting with the autopsies and external exams, I was never required to think about what was happening in the body, but I wanted to understand it all. Now as I progress through medical school and look towards residency and fellowship, I eagerly await the chance to perform my first autopsy as a physician, to put all the knowledge and experience I’ve gained towards helping move Ontario and forensic pathology forward.

Image 3. Kyla M. Jorgenson is a 3rd year medical student at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine with prior undergraduate and graduate studies in the field of forensic pathology, professional experience as an autopsy technician, as well as a vested interest in pursuing a career in the field moving forward in residency and fellowship. (Source: Kyla M. Jorgenson)

I’d like to thank Kyla for her time in talking with me and her willingness to share her insights with all of you. I wish her all the best of luck as she continues through her training with electives and core rotations both in the UK and state-side. If you have any questions to relay to her, please feel free to comment below and I will forward appropriately. And as always, don’t forget to share with your colleagues across every discipline!

Thanks for reading, I’ll see you next time where I’ll be writing from the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, conducting a formal rotation in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology! Don’t miss it, I’ll have lots to share while learning at one of the nation’s top institutions!

Until next time!

–Constantine E. Kanakis MSc, MLS (ASCP)CM graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a BS in Molecular Biology and Bioethics and then Rush University with an MS in Medical Laboratory Science. He is currently a medical student actively involved in public health and laboratory medicine, conducting clinicals at Bronx-Care Hospital Center in New York City.