What is Gastrointestinal Pathology?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2019
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Gastrointestinal pathology is a medical specialty which focuses on the study of diseases in the gastrointestinal tract, including the esophagus, stomach, and intestines. Specialists in this field are trained as surgical pathologists and then receive additional training in a gastrointestinal pathology fellowship. This training takes an extended period of time and exposes the doctor to huge numbers of specimens for learning purposes. There are limited numbers of these surgical subspecialists available because they are not in high demand, and they tend to be concentrated in urban areas where an ample supply of potential clients is available.

Pathology in general is the study of disease. In the case of gastrointestinal pathology, the field involves the study of lesions and abnormalities found in the esophagus, stomach, and intestines, along with attached organs like the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. Specialists in this field examine biopsies and surgical resections for diagnostic purposes.

The study of gastrointestinal pathology includes studying diseases which can impact the gastrointestinal tract, such as irritable bowel disease and Celiac disease. People in this field also study lesions, such as tumors; bruising; and injury caused by trauma or radiation damage which can be found in the intestines and associated organs. A specialist can examine a biopsy sample to determine what is causing a lesion and make treatment recommendations on that basis.


A doctor may call in a gastrointestinal pathologist on a consult on a case if the doctor feels that the patient could benefit from the services of a pathology specialist. In other cases, samples taken from patients are examined by a general pathologist. For many needs, general pathologists are entirely adequate, but for more obscure conditions, an expert who has seen numerous samples from patients with gastrointestinal conditions can be more fitting.

Patients can also seek out a gastrointestinal pathologist for the purpose of obtaining a second opinion or additional insights. The specialist can examine the patient's file and take new samples for analysis to provide input on the patient's case. Seeing a specialist can sometimes narrow down a diagnosis more quickly as the specialist is more likely to have seen someone with similar complaints.

A pathology report from a gastrointestinal pathologist will provide details about the specimen examined, any abnormalities or changes observed, and recommendations. The report is usually read by the primary care provider, who interprets it for the patient. Patients can, however, request to see the report personally and to have it explained by the specialist in gastrointestinal pathology or their primary care provider.


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