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Cytology

What is cytology?

Cytology is the exam of a single cell. These cells are often found in fluid samples. Cytology is used to do the following:

  • Diagnose or screen for cancer or diseases

  • Screen for fetal abnormalities

  • Screen for Pap tests

  • Diagnose infectious organisms

  • Work with other screening and diagnostic areas

The cells to be examined may be taken by these methods:

  • Scraping or brushing the tissue surface, such as during a Pap test

  • Collecting body fluids, such as for urine or respiratory mucus (phlegm)

  • Removing cells by drawing them through a fine needle (fine-needle aspiration), such as abdominal fluid in ascites, pleural fluid from the lungs, cells from a thyroid nodule, or cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal canal

  • Doing other types of tissue biopsy 

Cytology is different from histology. Cytology generally means looking at a single cell type. Histology is looking at an entire block of tissue. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Chad Haldeman-Englert MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2021
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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