Your surgeon will remove the cancerous tumor and some normal tissue—the margin—that surrounds it. After the procedure, a pathologist will carefully examine the tissue to see if cancer cells are present in the margins. This report typically takes 2-7 days to get back.
Ideally, surgeons will know if the margins are negative (no cancer) during the procedure. If not, they can remove more tissue if needed until the margins are clean.
Surgeons will do everything they can to achieve clean margins but they cannot detect remaining cancer cells—especially with hard-to-detect cancers—by sight or touch.
Traditional imaging used in the operating room, such as X-ray, does not have the resolution needed to detect cellular-level disease, and Pathology must be used to confirm clean margins.
While Pathology remains the gold standard, the analysis takes several days. If Pathology detects cancer cells in the margins, patients typically must return for another procedure.