The tests we provide

We provide a comprehensive range of pathology tests across a number of medical disciplines. This page describes the range of tests we provide and what each test is used for. For technical details of specific tests, including reference ranges and sample requirements, go to our laboratory handbooks.

Blood sciences

Clinical chemistry

This is the study of chemical and biochemical mechanisms of the body in relation to disease, mostly through the analysis of body fluids including blood or urine. Tests can detect:

  • Liver and Bone disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Lipid and carbohydrate disorders
  • Heart Disease
  • The location and spread of potential tumours

Clinical chemistry tests are also used to monitor the use and effectiveness of drug treatments such as chemotherapy.

Haematology

This is the study of the blood and blood forming tissues. Haematology tests play a major role in the diagnosis and monitoring of patients with disorders of the blood and bone marrow. Tests can detect:

  • Leukaemia and related blood cancers
  • Anaemia
  • Haemophilia and other bleeding and clotting problems
  • Sickle Cell disease
  • Malaria

Blood transfusion

This is the practice of providing blood and/or blood products for patients with conditions including moderate to severe anaemia, blood clotting disorders, leukaemia and other blood diseases. Transfusions are also given to patients with acute blood loss, for example as a result of an accident or during major surgery. Our blood transfusion teams are responsible for correctly identifying a patient’s blood group and ensuring compatibility with donated blood or blood productions.

Cellular pathology

Histopathology

This is the study of organs and tissues. Its roles include determining the cause of certain diseases and the effect(s) they are having on the body and helping doctors choose the most appropriate treatment for those diseases. Histopathology tests are also used as part of post mortems to help determine what may have caused a person’s death.

Histopathology tests can detect:

  • Abnormal tissue growth, such as inflammatory reactions
  • Benign or malignant cancers
  • Primary cancer origin in metastatic tumours – tumours which have spread from one part of the body to another
  • Cancer type, origin, aggressiveness and likely prognoses
  • Likely response of cancers to drug therapy
  • Bacterial and fungal infections

Histopathology tests are also used to help determine familial genetic disorders and – as part of post mortem examinations – to ascertain causes of death through post mortem examinations.

Cytopathology

This is the study and diagnoses of diseases by looking at cells using a light microscope. Cytology tests are often used to detect infective agents or cancer cells, enabling doctors to provide a diagnosis for patients with a suspected cancer or other disease. There are two categories of cytology.

Gynaecological cytology is the study of free cells taken from a woman’s cervix. Most cervical tests are undertaken as part of the NHS’ National Cervical Screening Programme to detect cell abnormalities. If such abnormalities are found, the woman will then be referred to a hospital for further tests.

Non-gynaecological cytology – sometimes called diagnostic cytology – is the study of free cells. It involves microscopic assessments of body cavity fluids from various sites of the body to help diagnose disease states. Samples can include urine, respiratory fluid, serous fluid and fluid from cysts. For lesions that are less accessible, samples are taken using a fine needle to draw out a small amount of tissue. This process is called fine needle aspiration. Sometimes, needle aspiration is done with the use of imaging such as ultrasound X ray guidance, CT MRI to help ensure a sample is taken from a specific area.

Andrology

This is the medical specialty which manages male reproductive health. Andrology investigations include spermatogenesis (the process of sperm cell development), semen analyses, sperm function, and fertilization ability. Andrology tests are commonly used to check the success of vasectomy procedures by checking for the presence or absence of sperm in a semen sample.

 

Infection science

Medical microbiology

This is the study of organisms – bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic – that cause infection. Laboratory tests can detect, isolate and identify bacteria and suggest the most effective drug to use for treatment. Tests can involve growing cultures, bacteria and fungi from a wide range of anatomical sites to find the cause of infection. Microbiology specimens can include:

  • Urine to detect urinary tract infections
  • Faeces to detect food poisoning and gut infections
  • Swabs from wounds to detect specific infections
  • Blood cultures to detect septicaemia
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to detect meningitis
  • Respiratory specimens – including sputum, throat and nose swabs – to detect infections such as pneumonia

Virology

This is the study of viral infections such as rubella, herpes, hepatitis and HIV. Blood is tested for:

  • Antibodies to bacteria and viruses to show exposure to specific diseases
  • Bacteria against a range of antibiotics to find the best treatment for the patient

 

Phlebotomy

This is the practice of drawing blood from patients to provide specimens for testing in the laboratory. Blood tests feature in many of the pathology disciplines detailed above.

More information

You can find out more about pathology tests on the NHS Choices website. The Lab Tests Online website also has a wide range of information, including definitions of different pathology tests.

 

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