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Gross examination.

The examination of organs and tissues macroscopically in order to establish a diagnosis and to select relevant portions for subsequent microscopic examination and special studies is fundamental to the practice of pathology. In the autopsy room, in the surgical pathology laboratory and, very often, in the operating room, gross pathology is the essential, underlying basis of morphologic diagnosis. Diagnoses on the basis of gross examination can be accurately made in as many as 90 % of specimens (Grossman IW, A primer of gross pathology, Charles C Thomas, 1972). In the remaining 10 % the skilled pathologist can be close to the diagnosis or can, at least, construct an accurate differential diagnosis that can provide guidance for subsequent studies. Sadly the numbers of pathologists with skills in macroscopic ("gross") pathology is rapidly declining, with concomitant loss in the quality of gross examinations, lower accuracy and elegance of specimen descriptions, and lack of precision in sample selection for special studies. This clearly impacts the quality of surgical pathology practice and, inevitably, the quality of patient care. The decline of gross pathology is a result of a number of factors, including a marked decrease in the numbers of autopsies which means that there are fewer opportunities for pathologists to hone gross pathology skills and to gain proficiency in handling tissues for appropriate further study. This is compounded by an increasing reliance on pathologists' assistants (PAs) for the handling, description and sampling of gross specimens, by the expanded utilization of biopsies rather than resections prior to initiating therapy and by the reliance on highly sophisticated immunopathology, molecular and genomic methods for diagnosis and even for determination of therapy. Despite these and other changes in medical and pathology practice, careful examination of the gross specimen is still the sine qua non of surgical and autopsy pathology practice.

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