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Laboratory medicine

The Department of Laboratory Services at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), Philadelphia, plays an important role in patient care. Our pathologists analyze laboratory tests, including blood, urine or other bodily fluids, for cancer diagnosis, staging, and treatment planning and monitoring. The goal is to help you receive an appropriate cancer treatment plan designed for your needs.

The laboratory team at CTCA® Philadelphia is staffed by medical technologists and phlebotomists, as well as laboratory assistants, analysts, supervisors and an information systems coordinator.

The laboratory staff is extensively trained. Most of the medical technologists have completed six-month to year-long clinical rotations, in addition to earning a bachelor’s degree.

The team prides itself on accurate, reliable and rapid turnaround times for in-house blood tests. Our goal is to eliminate as much of your wait time as possible, so you may receive targeted treatment with fewer delays or interruptions.

Laboratory services

Key divisions of the laboratory include processing of blood, chemistry, transfusion services, hematology and urinalysis.

Chemistry and special chemistry: This group of tests uses chemical processes to measure levels of chemical components in the blood or urine to help evaluate your general health status. Components of the blood include blood glucose (sugar), electrolytes, enzymes (e.g., creatinine kinase), lipids (e.g., cholesterol), proteins (e.g., albumin, globulins), hormones (e.g., cortisol) and other metabolic substances (e.g., uric acid, blood urea nitrogen or BUN). Some special chemistry tests deal primarily with tests for thyroid function, vitamin B12 and folate, and tumor markers.

Tumor marker tests: A tumor marker is a substance found in the blood or other bodily fluids that may be elevated in a person with cancer. In addition to detecting the presence of cancer, tumor markers are used to monitor your response to therapy. The turnaround time for tumor marker testing is less than two hours from the time blood is drawn to the time the results are sent to the medical oncologist.

Blood bank/transfusion services: One specialty within the laboratory is transfusion medicine, otherwise known as the blood bank. Medical technologists in the blood bank are responsible for seeing that blood products given to you are compatible with your blood. Donated blood is screened for infectious diseases and tested for antibodies before a transfusion.

Hematology: Hematology is the study of blood cells and blood-related disorders. Tests performed by this team include complete blood counts, differentials, body fluid analysis and bone marrow procedures. The results are used to monitor your general health.

Complete blood count (CBC): CBCs are performed on an analyzer using laser technology, which measures the reflection of the laser light from each individual cell, and in turn, provides cell identification. CBCs are used to gauge your ability to receive additional therapy. The analyses may also help diagnose anemia, blood cancers and problems in the bone marrow. A CBC may include white blood cell count, red blood cell count, platelet count, hematocrit red blood cell volume and hemoglobin concentration, and a differential blood count, identifying the blood cells.

Coagulation tests: These tests are used to measure platelet function and clotting ability to help diagnose and/or monitor bleeding and clotting disorders, as well as anti-coagulation (anti-clotting) therapies (e.g., heparin therapy). Bleeding and clotting disorders may result from liver disease, or as a side effect of certain medications.

Urinalysis test: This test determines the content of urine to help diagnose infections (e.g., of the kidney and bladder) and disease. It includes examination of color, pH level, red and white blood cells, bacteria and chemical analysis of blood, proteins, glucose and other substances.

Microbiology: Microbiology is the study of disease-causing microorganisms that are too small to be seen with the naked eye. Microorganisms may include bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses. Microbiology tests help to isolate and identify infectious agents in the blood, stool, urine, sputum (mucous from the lungs), cerebrospinal fluid, and other body fluids. The laboratory typically sends microbiology tests to a reference lab, where the infectious agents are tested and the results are sent back via an automated computer system.

Laboratory processes

When you first arrive at the hospital and throughout your care, you will receive various laboratory tests. When your physician places an order for a test, it goes into an automated computer system to notify the laboratory.

To receive your laboratory tests, you will visit the Outpatient Clinic on the first floor of the hospital. In the clinic, a phlebotomist will draw a sample of blood. If you have a central line, or port, a nurse will draw the blood. The phlebotomist station has regular hours from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and is closed on weekends. The laboratory itself is open 24/7, every day of the year. Phlebotomists also visit inpatients for early morning rounds and for periodic rounds throughout the day.

Once you have received your laboratory tests, the results will go back into the automated system for your physician to review. This process helps determine your personalized treatment plan.