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The leading role of pathology in assessing the somatic molecular alterations of cancer: Position Paper of the European Society of Pathology

Abstract

Molecular pathology is an essential part of pathology complementing conventional morphological tools to obtain a correct integrated diagnosis with appropriate assessment of prognosis and prediction of response to therapy, particularly in cancer. There is a concern about the situation of molecular pathology in some areas of Europe, namely, regarding the central role of pathologists in assessing somatic genomic alterations in cancer. In some countries, there are attempts that other laboratory medicine specialists perform the molecular analysis of somatic alterations in cancer, particularly now when next generation sequencing (NGS) is incorporated into clinical practice. In this scenario, pathologists may play just the role of “tissue providers,” and other specialists may take the lead in molecular analysis. Geneticists and laboratory medicine specialists have all background and skills to perform genetic analysis of germline alterations in hereditary disorders, including familial forms of cancers. However, interpretation of somatic alterations of cancer belongs to the specific scientific domain of pathology. Pathologists are necessary to guarantee the quality of the results, for several reasons: (1) The identified molecular alterations should be interpreted in the appropriate morphologic context, since most of them are context-specific; (2) pre-analytical issues must be taken into consideration; (3) it is crucial to check the proportion of tumor cells in the sample subjected to analysis and presence of inflammatory infiltrate and necrosis should be monitored; and 4) the role of pathologists is crucial to select the most appropriate methods and to control the turnaround time in which the molecular results are delivered in the context of an integrated diagnosis. Obviously, there is the possibility of having core facilities for NGS in a hospital to perform the sequence analysis that are open to other specialties (microbiologists, geneticists), but also in this scenario, pathologists should have the lead in assessing somatic alterations of cancer. In this article, we emphasize the importance of interpreting somatic molecular alterations of the tumors in the context of morphology. In this Position Paper of the European Society of Pathology, we strongly support a central role of pathology departments in the process of analysis and interpretation of somatic molecular alterations in cancer.