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Steps to Better Grossing

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From patient to pathologist, preparing tissue specimens for histological examination requires care, skill and sound procedures. This guide provides practical advice on best-practice techniques and simple ways to avoid common errors.

Tips for better grossing are highlighted in this week's guide. We hope each step provides a valuable reminder of good histology practice and also helps with troubleshooting when unacceptable results do occur.

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Step 12 - Check Fixation Status

 Specimens are dealt with promptly (especially large specimens that may otherwise be inadequately fixed).

 No consideration given to optimizing the fixation of problem specimens.

Specimens in the large containers should be checked as soon as possible to ensure they will be adequately fixed.
Prepare Thin Slices

Step 13 - Prepare Thin Slices

 Care is always taken to prepare uniform, thin slices from large specimens (3–4 mm maximum thickness). This is particularly important with dense tissues.

 Slices are sometimes 6 mm (or more) thick and are often uneven.

Shown here are uniform, thin (2–3mm) slices of a tumor ready for processing. They should process effectively and should section without difficulty.
Check Fixation Status

Step 14 - Avoid Specimen Trauma

 Care is taken to avoid traumatizing delicate specimens, particularly those that are incompletely fixed (handle carefully, do not crush, always use sharp blades).


 Specimens are handled roughly without any consideration as to their state of fixation. Sometimes blunt blades are used in dissection.

Section of H&E stained lung showing obvious local trauma due to very forceful grasping with forceps. Fresh or partly fixed tissue is most susceptible to damage but even well-fixed tissue can be damaged by rough handling.
Avoid Cross-contamination

Step 15 - Avoid Cross-contamination

 Each specimen is handled on a clean surface avoiding the possibility of specimen-to-specimen contamination.

 Sometimes the surface of the cutting board is not properly cleaned between specimens. This is of particular concern when the same specimen types are cut up one after the other. You do not want to have carry over from a specimen that is malignant to one that is benign.

Section of H&E stained lung containing a piece of foreign tissue (liver) impacted into the surface at cut-up.
Avoid Specimen Trauma

Step 16 - Take Care with Biopsy Pads

 Fresh or incompletely fixed specimens are not placed between foam biopsy pads, particularly needle-core specimens (biopsy pad artifact is avoided).

 Sometimes small, fresh or incompletely fixed specimens are placed between biopsy pads, put into a cassette and then fixed. This can produce a characteristic artifact.


The triangular spaces visible in this section result from local pressure effects caused by the cellular structure of the foam pads when applied to fresh or very briefly fixed tissue.
Take Care with Biopsy Pads

Step 17 - Choose Appropriate Cassettes

 Choose appropriate cassettes for the specimen type being processed. Tissue fragments shrink during processing and, if cassette perforations are too large, fragments may escape into processing reagents or, worse still, transfer over to another specimen.


 A “one size fits all” approach is used when placing specimens into cassettes.

A Some of the smaller tissue fragments seen here may escape through the holes in the cassette.This will be come even more likely as the tissue shrinks during processing.
B Cassettes with fine perforations are available for small tissue fragments.
Choose Appropriate Cassettes

Step 18 - Avoid Overloading Cassettes

 Cassettes are never overloaded with tissue thus allowing ready access to processing reagents and preventing distortion of specimens. If the volume of tissue is too great a second cassette is used.

 Cassettes are often crammed full of tissue thus preventing access of processing reagents. Sometimes specimens are distorted in the process.

These cassettes are over-loaded. If processing goes ahead the specimens will be distorted and it is likely that the processing will be incomplete.
Avoid Overloading Cassettes

Step 19 - Clearly Label Cassettes

 Cassettes are always clearly labeled. Accurate identification of specimens is of paramount importance.

 Sometimes it is difficult to read the labels on cassettes. A bit of guess work may be required.

These illegible cassette labels are totally unacceptable.
Clearly Label Cassettes

Click here to download the full 101 Better Steps to Histology

This reference document is presented as a service to health care professionals by Leica Biosystems and has been compiled from available literature. Although every effort has been made to report faithfully the information, Leia Biosystems cannot be held responsible for the correctness. This document is not intended to be, and should not be construed as medical advice. For any use, the product information guides, inserts and operation manuals of the various drugs and devices should be consulted. Leica Biosystems and the editors disclaim any liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of drugs, devices, techniques or procedures described in this reference document.

Copyright © 2016 Leica Biosystems, a division of Leica Microsystems Inc.
All rights reserved. LEICA and the Leica Logo are registered trademarks of Leica Microsystems IR GmbH.

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