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Pathologists provide information that helps physicians care for patients; because of this, the pathologist is sometimes called the "doctor's doctor." When a patient has a tumor, an infection, or symptoms of a disease, a pathologist examines tissues from the patient to determine the nature of the patient's condition. Without this knowledge, a physician would not be able to make an accurate diagnosis and design the appropriate treatment. Because many health conditions first manifest themselves at the cellular level, pathologists are often able to identify conditions before they turn into serious health problems.
Many people associate pathologists only with the performing of autopsies. In fact, while pathologists do perform autopsies, much of their work involves living patients. Pathologists working in hospital laboratories examine the blood, urine, bone marrow, stools, tissues, and tumors of patients. Using a variety of techniques, pathologists locate the causes of infections and determine the nature of unusual growths. Pathologists consult with a patient's physician to determine the best course of treatment. They may also talk with the patient about his or her condition. In a sense, the work of pathologists is much like detective work. It is often through the efforts of pathologists that health conditions are recognized and properly treated.
Forensic pathologists are specialists who typically examine the deceased (usually those who die unexpectedly, suddenly, or violently) to determine cause and manner of death.