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Pathology Research International
Volume 2011 (2011), Article ID 656079, 6 pages
Research Article

The Interpretation of Phrases Used to Describe Uncertainty in Pathology Reports

1Department of Cellular Pathology, Royal Free Hospital, London NW3 2QG, UK
2University College London Medical School, London WC1E 6BT, UK

Received 10 February 2011; Accepted 16 May 2011

Academic Editor: Jan G. van den Tweel

Copyright © 2011 Malcolm Galloway and Taj Taiyeb. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Histopathological reports frequently contain phrases describing the degree of uncertainty of the diagnosis. We examined the interpretations of such terms by cellular pathologists, other doctors, and medical students. 203 respondents estimated the degree of certainty they would associate with the following phrases in a cellular pathology report: the features are indicative of; raise the possibility of; are compatible with; are probably those of; are diagnostic of; are in keeping with; and are suggestive of. For all phrases assessed other than “diagnostic of”, all groups showed a wide spread in the interpreted probability. For example, the probability associated with the term “in keeping with” by individual consultant pathologists ranged from 25 to 100%. This study demonstrates that pathologists vary widely in how they interpret the meaning of phrases describing probability that are commonly used in pathology reports. We suggest that this potential risk is highlighted during pathology training.