Who's behind the microscope detecting cancer cells?

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - When a person is diagnosed with cancer, it is their doctor giving them the news after a sample of cells is determined to be cancerous. Have you ever wondered who the person is behind the microscope examining those cells? We go inside Lake Charles Memorial Hospital's histology laboratory to see the process first-hand.

If you have undergone a biopsy or other procedure to remove a sample of tissue, that tissue ends up in a pathology or histology lab. LCMH histology supervisor Kathy Maddox says, "It's given a number in our computer system and checked to make sure it's labeled."

Maddox says each sample - from a tiny piece of tissue to an organ in a large bucket - starts here. Each is labeled and ready for the pathologist, Dr. Gregory Bowling. "We look at it just with the naked eye, what we call macroscopic or gross examination," he said.

This process can last one minute or a half-hour with Dr. Bowling verbally explaining what he is seeing into a microphone for a medical transcriptionist to record. Then, it is back to the hands of Maddox or histology tech, Hope LeBleu.

The next stop is this machine for night-long chemical bath. "All the specimens go through all of these chemicals and then the end product is wax," said Maddox.

Once in solid wax, the samples can be sliced to make slides. "I will cut very thin sections and dip it in paraffin before centering on glass slides."

Then stain is used to cover slip the tissue. LeBleu says, "What this does is preserve our tissue on the slide for years to come."

Next it is back to Dr. Bowling to look at the slides under a microscope. "If it doesn't look normal, then we have to determine what changes, whether it's something that looks like an infection or whether the changes are in the direction of malignancy," he said.

Finally, a pathology report is written up with the results of the diagnostic process. "We issue a report that goes to the patient's physician, whoever is responsible for taking care of them," said Dr. Bowling.

The pathology report details the cancerous cells, helping your doctor determine the best options for treatment.

The samples are stored for a minimum of two weeks after going through the lab process. The glass slides are kept on file for several years.

Copyright KPLC 2013. All rights reserved.