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.


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.


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.


  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. 


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


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


  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. 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.

Surgical Pathology Case Study: A 64 Year Old Man with History of Loose Stools and Abdominal Pain

Case History

A 64 year old male presented with a one year history of loose stools, lower abdominal crampy/gassy pain that improved with defection, and an unclear history of melena. A colonoscopy revealed a circumferential, villous, carpet-like lesion extending from 15 cm to the anal verge, with biopsies demonstrating fragments of a villous adenoma. A follow-up CT scan was negative for metastatic disease. The decision was then made to proceed with a low anterior resection with hand-sewn colo-anal anastomosis and diverting loop ileostomy.


Upon opening the rectum, a 13.8 cm long circumferential, carpet-like lesion is identified, extending to the distal margin (Image 1). Sectioning demonstrated a lesion with a maximum thickness of 1.0 cm, which grossly appears to be confined to the mucosa. Due to the prior biopsy history of a villous adenoma, the entire lesion was completely submitted. This required 116 blocks to be submitted, which were then mapped out to show where each block would have been taken from (Image 2). Although there were many foci of intramucosal carcinoma present, clear cut submucosal invasion was not identified, and the specimen was signed out as a villous adenoma (Image 3).

Image 1. Opened rectum demonstrating the 13.8 cm-long carpet-like lesion.
Image 2. Mapping the lesion to show from where each block is taken.
Image 3. Photomicrograph showing the transition from normal mucosa (black arrow) to villous adenomatous tissue (red arrow).


Polyps are an abnormal tissue growth that is a common occurrence within the colon, although they can also be found throughout the small intestine, stomach and esophagus. Polyps can be further classified as being neoplastic or non-neoplastic based on the histological pattern of the cells. The most common types of neoplastic polyps found within the GI tract are colonic adenomas, which are benign polyps that serve as precursors to the majority of colorectal cancers. Nearly half of adults in the Western world will develop adenomas by the age of 50, and there is no gender predilection. It is because of this that it is recommended that all adults get a colonoscopy by the age of 50 (even earlier when there is a family history of developing colorectal cancer).

Most polyps are small, measuring 0.5 cm or less, but can grow to be over 10 cm in size (as seen in this case). When a colonoscopy is performed, these polyps can appear as sessile, meaning flat, or pedunculated, meaning on a stalk. Due to the abnormal epithelial growth of the mucosa, the surface of an adenoma can have a velvety appearance, resembling that of a raspberry. Most patients will not demonstrate any symptoms from their polyps, with the exception of occult bleeding and anemia which are associated with larger polyps.

Dysplasia, which literally means “disordered growth”, occurs when the individual cells lose their uniformity and architecture, often resulting in cells with a hyperchromatic nuclei and a high nuclear to cytoplasmic ratio. The presence of dysplasia contained within the epithelium of a polyp is what classifies the polyp as an adenoma (Image 4). Based on their epithelial growth pattern, adenomas can be classified as either tubular adenomas or villous adenomas. Tubular adenomas tend to be smaller polyps, with a smoother surface and rounded glands on histologic examination. Villous adenomas, in contrast, tend to be larger polyps with long, slender villi noted on histology (Image 5). If an adenoma contains a mixture of tubular and villous elements, they are classified as tubulovillous adenomas. When a dysplastic cell is no longer contained within the epithelium, and instead breaches the basement membrane which separates the epithelium from the underlying tissue, it is termed invasive.

Image 4. Photomicrograph of the villous adenoma, demonstrating the dysplasia that is confined to the mucosa and not extending to the deeper tissue.
Image 5. Photomicrograph of the long, slender villi that are commonly seen in villous adenomas.

What makes this case so interesting is that there is a direct correlation between the size of an adenoma, and the risk of developing colorectal cancer. This is not true with most other cancers, however, as size plays no part in determining whether the tumor is cancerous or not. With colon polyps, the larger the polyp, the greater the chance of developing invasive carcinoma (i.e. cancer). This is why screening colonoscopies are so important. Studies have shown that regular colonoscopies, combined with the removal of the polyps found on the exam, reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer. Why this case is so interesting is that you could assume based on the size of this polypoid lesion, you would find some invasive component. However, after reviewing 116 blocks, not a single focus of invasion could be identified.

It should be stated that although there is a correlation between an adenomas size and the risk of developing cancer, the majority of adenomas will not progress to cancer, and in fact, there are no tools currently available that help to determine why one patient’s adenoma will progress to cancer, while another patient’s adenoma will not.


  1. Association of Directors of Anatomic and Surgical Pathology, adapted with permission by the American Cancer Society. Understanding Your Pathology Report: Colon Polyps (Sessile or Traditional Serrated Adenomas). Accessed February 14, 2019.
  2. Colon Polyps. Mayo Clinic. Accessed February 14, 2019.
  3. Turner JR. Polyps. In: Kumar V, Abbas AK, Fausto N, Aster JC. Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease, 8th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier, Inc; 2010: 815-820

-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.

Adventures in Grossing, Part I

So its no secret that I don’t feel that I’m the world’s best or fastest grosser. I didn’t read Lester or Westra (aka the grossing Bibles) as much as I should’ve first year and still have never finished either cover to cover. And the fact that we had surgpath fellows stand by our side and teach us how to gross initially was probably more of a crutch for me than I should’ve allowed it to be. I need to understand why I should gross a specimen a specific way because memorizing the steps does not work for me – because I forget the next time and because not every specimen is “perfect” and I may need to modify the general protocol.

But for the past two months, I’ve been at our program’s busiest surgpath site, a private practice in a community hospital setting that sees a whole lot of cancers. My first day definitely was not a good one. I had spent 10 hours traveling from USCAP back to my apartment and had gotten a mild migraine in between…so much so that I got off at my layover asking if I could take a later flight back. Unfortunately, the next flight would get me home close to 7 AM and it’s a 1-1.5 hour drive to this hospital for me during rush hour traffic. This site is close to the airport so I would’ve been better off going straight from there.

It was the perfect storm, both figuratively and literally. I was tired from travel and nursing the residual headache that always follows one of my migraines… it was snowing yet again…and this caused a few accidents…and for me to be late my first day at this site after I had missed the first two days of the rotation (which is generally a no-no). So my first impression was most definitely not a good one. Couple that with being assigned grossing duty for a moderately heavy day, not knowing where anything was or how things were supposed to be done at this site, not being able to access the EMR, and not knowing what my responsibilities were versus those of the tech assigned to stand by and assist me (at other sites, I had to do everything by myself), and its not surprising that I failed to impress my attending.

VoiceBrook (Medical Dragon dictation software), the bane of my existence right now, was not working and their staff kept calling since there was miscommunication about my appointment to re-train with VoiceBrook. On top of all of this, I didn’t get to do the compensatory rituals I usually do to feel less stressed about grossing – work up my patients/specimens ahead of time, read Lester and Westra, and triage my grossing day based on the OR schedule. I pretty much felt like a “robot” (a sick one at that) that went straight through the manual motions of continuous grossing until the time came to close the gross room.

The attendings at this site have very specific ideas of the “right way” to gross and their expectations varies from the other in terms of their views on these topics. It is very busy in terms of grossing, intraoperative consultations, and weekly tumor boards that the residents prepare and present. But this post is actually not to complain but to elaborate on a light bulb moment that I had today that I had subconsciously somewhat improved my speed and many of the gaps in my understanding of what to gross and how to do it. Sometimes, repetition can be a great teacher. Good communication with those you work with is key. And lastly, nothing beats a good mentor who is willing to work with you to address your weaknesses… so what were your light bulb moments during your most difficult rotation and how did you come to recognize them? I’ll continue next week with a little more on this topic but for now, its bedtime since I anticipate a busy grossing day tomorrow.



Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a second year resident physician at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System in Chicago, IL.