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University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust

Cellular pathology

The primary role of the cellular pathology department is to produce a diagnostic report describing the microscopic appearance of the biopsy (sample of human tissue or body fluid removed from the patient) received.

Specimens for cellular pathology are received from a variety of sources:

  • Hospital operating theatres, where they may be removed surgically under general anaesthetic.
  • Out-patient clinics where smaller operations may be performed under local anaesthetic.
  • Endoscopy clinics where small specimens called biopsies may be removed with precision using flexible fibre-optic endoscopes.
  • General Practitioners, who are now encouraged to perform minor operations under local anaesthetic


Once tissue has been removed from the body the cells start to degenerate and this process if left unchecked may interfere with the examination. For this reason, tissue removed is placed immediately into a preserving solution. This process is called fixation and takes approximately 24 hours.

For large specimens representative samples in the form of small pieces of tissue are processed. Small samples are processed in total. Sections of tissue 0.004 mm thick are cut from the processed tissue samples, placed on a microscope slide and stained.

The stained sections are then examined in detail by a doctor (pathologist) who makes an assessment as to the nature of the disease present. The whole process usually takes in excess of 24 hours and for more complex cases may take up to several days particularly if staining with molecular markers is required

Occasionally circumstances arise during an operation when an urgent report is required. In these cases a frozen section involving the rapid freezing of a chosen tissue block will be performed.

This whole procedure can take as little as five minutes and allows the surgeon to proceed with the operation. The cellular structure from body fluids or needle aspirates are also examined under the microscope and the findings are reported to the requesting Physician/Surgeon.


In 2016, the UK National Screening Committee recommended that the HPV test should replace cytology as the first (primary) test in cervical screening and by December 2019 primary HPV has fully rolled out across England. Commencing from the 25th November 2019 onwards, all local cervical screening HPV samples are processed at Berkshire and Surrey pathology services at the St. Peters hospital, Chertsey site. All enquiries can be made via 01932 726622 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Cytology Department also provides a wide range of non-gynaecological, diagnostic cytology services and ancillary tests. The diagnostic cytology service endeavours to assist in clinical sample collection and rapid on-site evaluation.

For enquiries please call 0300 019 2206 or to book an appointment, it's 0300 019 2793.

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