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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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Sputum Cytology

Sputum cytology examines a sample of sputum (mucus) under a microscope to determine whether abnormal cells are present. Sputum is not the same as saliva. Sputum is produced in the lungs and in the airways camera.gif leading to the lungs. Sputum has some normal lung cells in it.

Sputum cytology may be done to help detect certain noncancerous lung conditions. It may also be done when lung cancer is suspected.

A sputum sample may be collected:

  • By a person coughing up mucus.
  • By breathing in a saltwater (saline) mist and then coughing.
  • During bronchoscopy, which uses a bronchoscope to look at the throat and airway.

Why It Is Done

Sputum cytology is done to find:

  • Lung cancer. But sputum cytology is not used as a screening test for people at risk for developing lung cancer, such as smokers.
  • Noncancerous lung conditions, such as pneumonia or inflammatory diseases, tuberculosis, or the buildup of asbestos fibers in the lungs (asbestosis).

How To Prepare

Home or office sample

No special preparation is required if the sputum sample is to be collected at home or in your doctor's office.

Bronchoscopy sample

Before you have bronchoscopy to collect a sputum sample, tell your doctor if you:

If you have a bronchoscopy, you will be asked to sign a consent form that says you understand the risks of the test and agree to have it done.

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

Your doctor will tell you how soon before the procedure to stop eating and drinking. Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking, or your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor has instructed you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, please do so using only a sip of water.

Arrange to have someone drive you home after the procedure.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 01, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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