Understanding pathology tests
- A pathology test is a test that examines a sample of your body’s tissues.
- Pathology tests give more information about your health.
- They can be used to help diagnose or monitor a medical condition, screen for certain health conditions to find them early, and monitor your response to medicines and other treatments.
- How long your results take will depend on the type of test you’ve had.
What are pathology tests?
A pathology test is a test that examines a sample of your body’s tissues.
Pathology tests can include tests done on your:
- faeces (poo)
- sputum (phlegm or mucus that you cough up)
- swabs taken from your nose and throat (such as COVID-19 testing)
- swabs taken from elsewhere, such as your skin, cervix or genitals (for example, cervical screening tests or testing for sexually transmitted infections)
- samples obtained from tissues by needle or biopsy
Why does my doctor want me to have pathology tests?
Pathology tests give more information about your health. They can be used to help:
- diagnose a medical condition (or find a cause for your symptoms)
- monitor a medical condition over time
- screen for certain health conditions to find them early, before symptoms develop
Pathology tests can help diagnose, detect and monitor conditions such as:
- heart disease
- hormone problems
- inflammatory conditions
- kidney disease
Pathology tests can also:
- check levels of medicines in your blood
- monitor your response to medicines and other treatments
What do I need to do before my test?
Follow any instructions you’ve been given about the test.
For some tests, you need special preparation. This may include:
- fasting — not eating (and drinking only water) before your test
- avoiding or having certain foods and drinks before your test
- stopping or changing medicines or supplements before your test
Always check with your doctor about any preparation that is needed before your tests. Any changes to your diet or medicines should only be made under your doctor’s instruction and supervision.
Let collection centre staff know if you have not followed the instructions for any reason.
Also let your doctor know about any medicines you are taking, including herbal or over-the-counter (non-prescription) medicines.
Check with your doctor or call the pathology collection centre if you:
- are not sure of what you need to do for your tests
- have any questions about the tests
More information on blood tests and preparation is available in our Guide to blood testing.
When and how will I get my results?
How long your results take will depend on the type of test you’ve had.
Your doctor can tell you beforehand how long the results are likely to take. In most cases, it’s best to book an appointment with your doctor to discuss your test results.
What do my test results mean?
The best person to help you understand your results is the doctor who ordered the test. This may be your doctor or a specialist doctor.
Sometimes, a result may be labelled by the pathology laboratory as being ‘abnormal’, or ‘outside of the normal range’. This does not necessarily mean that there is a problem.
Your doctor will be able to interpret your test results. They will consider many factors when reading your results. They can talk with you about whether an ‘abnormal’ test result is a sign of a problem for you.
Key points to discuss with your doctor
You might want talk to your doctor about:
- which tests are best for you and why
- what you need to do before, during, or after the test
- what the results might mean for your health, such as whether you need any treatment
- whether any abnormal results are important
- whether you will need any follow-up tests
ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.
Resources and support
The Pathology Tests Explained website has a number of resources and services available if you need help or more information on pathology testing.
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Last reviewed: October 2022