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Tucson clinic offers rapid test results for certain health concerns
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Tucson clinic offers rapid test results for certain health concerns

Agonizing over a medical diagnosis can make a week feel like an eternity.

That’s how Michelle Deeds said it sometimes felt after she discovered mysterious lumps in her jaw last February.

She visited doctors and a dental surgeon while trying not to visit internet sites about cancer.

And so when a specialist referred her to Tucson Pathology Associates at 7350 E. Speedway about a month ago, she thought it would be, as she put it, another round of “hurry up and wait.”

Not so.

The clinic, whose operators believe it is one of a handful of its kind nationwide, offered her results within a half an hour.

That’s because the doctor doing the procedure, a cytopathologist, was the same one who immediately looked at the extracted cells under a microscope.

“A lot of people do this procedure but don’t have the ability to do the rapid assessment,” said Dr. Khalid Aboul-Nasr, a cytopathologist who recently joined the clinic after completing a related, yearlong fellowship at Duke University.

Radiologists or other specialists also perform what are called fine needle aspirations, he said, but usually the samples have to then be sent away to a pathologist.

The doctors at Tucson Pathology Associates cannot screen for all kinds of cancer or disease, only those involving soft tissues or the head and neck.

“If you have to do an incision, we’re not doing it,” Aboul-Nasr said. About 60% of the 1,000 or so screenings they do each year are related to the thyroid or the head and neck, he said.

Sometimes more than one needle aspiration is required, or a referral for a surgical biopsy is necessary, but most of the time the results are right there, magnified for the trained eye to see.

In Deeds’ case, the bumps turned out to be rare, and benign, and possibly attributable to the mumps she had when she was younger.

“That was quite a relief because there had been so many referrals and so much waiting throughout,” she said. “It was so nice to leave with an answer.”

When Aboul-Nasr first visited the clinic, just as he was finishing medical school, he was surprised.

“I didn’t know pathologists could also see patients,” he said. The idea appealed to him so much that he decided it was the kind of medicine he wanted to pursue.

“We can have a huge impact on this person’s care very quickly,” he said.

The clinic where he now works was started about 30 years ago by Dr. Osama Abdelatif, who ran it as part of St. Joseph’s Hospital. The clinic on Speedway opened about three years ago, but the six pathologists still go to St. Joseph’s on a rotating basis.

Like Aboul-Nasr, Abdelatif was excited to learn he could combine pathology with direct patient care and the clinic he started.

“After I graduated from medical school, I did two years of internal medicine during which I enjoyed having patient contact,” he said. “After finishing my residency in pathology at the Medical College of Georgia, I realized that I missed that patient contact.”

He said what he enjoys most about his work are the times he gets to tell his patients everything is OK.

Isabel Soto of Rio Rico had that experience just recently when she was referred to the clinic because of a growth on her thyroid gland. Like Deeds, she did not realize she would get her results so quickly.

“Often, it’s a waiting game and at this clinic there is no waiting game,” she said. “It’s such a weight off your shoulders.”

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at pmachelor@tucson.com or 806-7754. On Twitter: @pattymachstar

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Patty covers issues pertaining to children and families as well as people living with disabilities. She previously reported on court cases, with an emphasis on juvenile court. She has worked for the Arizona Daily Star since 2001.

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