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Virtual Pathology for the General Public


This section is designed to help the general public understand cancer, by showing examples of common cases at a microscopic level, using virtual slides.

Pathology is the study of disease, and cancer is a large part of the pathologists daily workload. Pathologists have to do five years medical training, 2 years basic medical practice and then specialist training for a minimum of 5 years. Some take a research degree in addition.

There are many different types of cancer and they can have a wide variety of appearances.

The images in this section are primarily used for teaching and research. Cancer samples are removed from a patient in order to visually assess the characteristics of the disease. Different visual characteristics can determine how quickly a cancer will grow and / or spread, and so viewing a cancer sample is very important for recommending appropriate treatments for a patient.

Once the cancer has been removed, it is sliced very thinly (5 microns thick) multiple times, so that each slice (section) can be placed on a glass slide. The tissue on each of the slides can then be stained in different ways in order to highlight specific areas of the cancer, which allows pathologists to see what sort of cancer the patient has. Once the tissue sections have been stained, they are traditionally sent to a pathology lab for visual inspection under a microscope.

Cancer tissue from patient to microscope

A simplified diagram showing a cancer tissue sample going from patient to microscope.

Recent advances in technology have meant that the University of Leeds Section of Pathology and Tumour Biology can now scan glass slides using high resolution scanners, in order to create digital images of the tissue. These digital images, called virtual slides, are very large - with the same amount of pixels as approximately 500 high definition television sets.

Cancer tissue from patient to computer screen

A simplified diagram showing a cancer tissue sample going from patient to computer screen.

This section of the website contains some example virtual slide images of common cancers, in order to help illustrate the visual characteristics of various forms of disease, and get an idea of what the pathologists are looking at when they diagnose a cancer.

The virtual slides can be viewed in a web browser, but if you have not used virtual slide viewing software before, it is advised that you click on the link above which describes how to view and navigate virtual slides.