The morphologic diagnosis of tumor specimens with precise tumor typing, staging, and grading remains the basis of almost all cancer treatments. Thus, in each tumor case, a histologic diagnosis of the highest quality should be the physician's priority. In approximately 10-20% of tumor cases, diagnostic uncertainty remains to some degree, requiring a second opinion in determining the biologic behavior, the histogenesis, the grade of dedifferentiation, or any other parameter. Facilitating the communication between pathologists and the exchange of cases, telepathology gains more and more importance. To benefit from this technical development, the International Union Against Cancer (UICC) has decided to establish a Telepathology Consultation Center (UICC-TPCC) for interested pathologists around the world.
The communication and exchange of histologic images works via the Internet. To ensure constant documentation, a case-based data base and image archive is used. Special TPCC software handles all requests to the TPCC and controls the interaction among requesting pathologists, TPCC, and UICC experts (transferring, reading, answering, logging, storing, etc.). All necessary data for controlling the telepathology service are stored in a customized SQL data base. The necessary equipment for the requesting pathologist is a personal computer; a digital or television camera/frame grabber, which is attached to a microscope; and access to the Internet. The requesting party contacts the TPCC's World Wide Web server and uploads the images and the clinical data of their case. To ensure uninterrupted functioning, the hardware will be part of a high-level communication center, which is connected via ATM (asynchronous transfer mode, 155 megabits per second) to the Internet.
The UICC has decided to establish the TPCC at the Institute of Pathology at the Charité, Humboldt-University, Berlin, Germany. The TPCC will not make the diagnoses itself but will involve an affiliated specialized expert pathologist. He or she will be on the panel of UICC experts who will constitute the "diagnostic backbone" of the TPCC. The center will function as follows: If a pathologist anywhere on the globe is confronted with the diagnosis of a difficult tumor case, he takes digitized histologic images (5-40 in number) and sends them along with sufficient clinical data to the server of the UICC-TPCC, asking for a second opinion. The center checks the case and transfers it to one of the UICC experts. This expert makes his or her diagnostic suggestion, which is then transferred back to the requesting pathologist via the UICC-TPCC.
The UICC-TPCC will be able to provide rapid and inexpensive diagnostic aid to pathologists all over the world, offering the possibility of a second opinion in accordance with the UICC-TNM and World Health Organization (WHO) standards. During the first and second year, the UICC-TPCC will be financed by sponsors. Telepathology makes the distribution of new developments of diagnostic standards, e.g., of the TNM system, WHO terminology, new tumor classifications, and updated information on actual technologies, globally accessible in a direct and rapid way. It also enables a high quality of education and teaching.