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Cytology

What is cytology?

Cytology is the examination of a single cell type, as often found in fluid specimens. Used extensively to diagnose cancer, cytology is also used in screening for fetal abnormalities, pap smears, diagnosing infectious organisms, and other screening and diagnostic areas.

The cells to be examined may be obtained through the following methods:

  • Scraping or brushing the tissue surface

  • Body fluids

  • Fine-needle aspirations (removing cells by drawing them through a fine needle)

  • Other types of tissue incisional or excisional biopsy 

Cytology is different from histology. Cytology generally involves looking at a single cell type, while histology is the examination of an entire block of tissue. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Hanrahan, John, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 10/7/2013
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