Cytotechnology is an allied health laboratory specialty designed to aid in the diagnosis of cancer and its precursors using individual cell morphology.
A cytotechnologist (CT) is a laboratory specialist who is responsible for preparing and examining human cell samples under the microscope for early signs of cancer and other diseases. The cytotechnologist meticulously reviews and analyzes subtle cell changes, both nuclear and cytoplasmic, and compares these changes to known normal cell findings from given body sites. By adding these microscopic observations to the clinical history provided, the cytotechnologist can judge the significance of the cell changes. Cytotechnologists, working with cytopathologists, aid clinicians in determining a patient’s diagnosis. Many times a cytology sample may help facilitate early detection of cancer or assess the extent of spread of a known malignancy.
The cytotechnologist must be familiar with normal anatomy and histology for all the body systems that may be the sources of cytologic material and must learn the appearance of certain disease processes that affect these body sites. The cell changes that indicate these processes must be studied and the cells recognized in a background of normal material.
Cytotechnologists aid in the management of patients with known malignancies by assisting with fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsies, minimally invasive procedures that can, in addition to initial diagnosis, help track the spread of disease. When used in conjunction with radiologic and ultrasound techniques, FNA can target small, difficult to reach areas of the body.
As healthcare professionals, cytotechnologists are responsible for providing accurate, timely, and secure diagnoses for each patient. Through certification, and with continuing education, the competent cytotechnologist is a well-respected and vital member of the pathology laboratory.
Many types of laboratories employ cytotechnologists including community and military hospitals, large teaching institutions and laboratories in the private sector. Upward mobility to supervisory and administrative levels is possible with years of service and additional education or certification. Academic institutions and universities also employ cytotechnologists with the right credentials to teach Cytotechnology. Additional opportunities for cytotechnologists are available in the area of molecular diagnostics, where the need for trained morphologists blends well with the skills learned in cytology.
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