Sixty-five thousand shades of gray: Importance of color in surgical pathology diagnoses

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13 Scopus citations


Digital whole slide imaging (WSI) is a diagnostic modality that has gained acceptance as a tool for use in some areas of surgical pathology such as remote consultations. Accurate control of color representation of digitally rendered images of histologic sections is considered an important parameter of WSI. Currently, professional societies, physicians, and other stakeholders are in the process of establishing clinical guidelines outlining the use of these devices, which include color integrity and color calibration of scanners and viewing devices. Although color is a component of surgical pathology diagnoses, it was posited that pathologists could accurately diagnose surgical specimens without color. To test this hypothesis, 5 pathologists were presented breast biopsy specimens from 20 patients consisting of 22 separate tissue specimens and WSI of 158 hematoxylin and eosin-stained slides imaged at ×20. No special stains were included. The pathologists reviewed each case using a 16-bit grayscale monitor and rendered a diagnosis for each case. Diagnoses were compared to the original light microscopy diagnoses and scored for concordance. A 92.7% concordance was observed. Discordant diagnoses represented well-known areas of diagnostic disagreement in breast pathology as well as known limitations of WSI. The research demonstrated that surgical pathologists did not rely primarily on color to render accurate diagnoses of breast biopsy cases but rather used architectural features of tissue and cellular morphology to reach a diagnostic conclusion. This research did not suggest that color is an unimportant factor in pathology diagnosis, but its importance may be overstated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1945-1950
Number of pages6
JournalHuman Pathology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2015


  • Computer aided diagnostics
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Digital pathology
  • Physician cognition
  • Whole slide imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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