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cytology examination of sputum

Alternative Names 
sputum cytology

A sputum cytology test can identify cancer cells in a sample of sputum.

Who is a candidate for the test? 
This test is done when a doctor suspects that a person may have lung cancer.

How is the test performed? 
This test is usually performed in the morning, immediately after waking up. The person is asked to rinse his or her mouth with water to avoid a poor sample. After taking several deep breaths, the person then coughs deeply. This should bring up enough of a material from deep in the lungs known as sputum. Sputum is different from spit. The sputum sample is then taken to a laboratory. The laboratory can then examine the sample with a microscope.

What is involved in preparation for the test? 
Instructions on sample collection are provided to people having this test. No other special preparation is needed.

What do the test results mean? 
Usually, sputum contains some normal cells. No cells that look like cancer should be in the sample. If cancer cells are seen, the person usually has lung cancer.

Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 16/09/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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