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What Is Urine Cytology?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 05, 2021

A urine cytology test looks at the cells in your urine under a microscope. It can help your doctor diagnose some forms of urinary tract cancer. You may need one if you've had blood in your urine. 

Why Is a Urine Cytology Test Done?

Your doctor may order this test to check for cancer cells. A urine cytology test may help diagnose the following types of cancer: 

A urine cytology test can also let your doctor know if you have a viral infection or inflammation of your urinary tract. If you're experiencing pain with urination or are having to urinate often but don't have an infection, a urine cytology test can be used to help your doctor determine what is causing your symptoms.

A urine cytology test might be done if you have any of these symptoms:

How Is a Urine Cytology Test Done?

These tests are done with a urine sample. The urine sample can't be from the first time you urinate in the morning. The cells from your first-morning urine have been in your bladder overnight and might be too degraded to analyze. There are two ways a urine sample can be collected for a urine cytology test.  

Clean catch. This is a way to collect a urine sample that will keep it from being contaminated by germs that you normally have on the skin around your urinary area. Your health care provider will give you a kit to collect your urine. To get a clean-catch sample, take the following steps: 

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. 
  2. Use the towelette that came with your kit to clean around your urethral opening. 
  3. Urinate into the toilet for a few seconds and then stop. 
  4. Restart your urinary stream using the specimen cup to collect it. 
  5. Put the cap on the container without touching the inside of it. 
  6. Make sure the container is labeled with your information. 
  7. Return the container to your healthcare provider or lab technician.

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Catheter. In some situations, a urine sample may be taken with a small tube called a catheter. A catheter is inserted into your urethra and moved up into your bladder. This method of collecting a sample poses a risk of urinary tract infection. 

Your urine sample will be sent to a lab after it's collected. At the lab, a technician will process your specimen and look at it under a microscope. Any abnormal cells will be marked. The specimen will then be sent to a doctor who will determine the results. 

What Other Tests Might Be Needed?

Your doctor will tell you exactly what the results of your test mean, however, a urine cytology test by itself can't diagnose any disease. Your doctor will probably ask for more tests if your results are not normal. 

You may need other tests to help diagnose problems with your urinary tract. Some common ones include:

Imaging studies. Your doctor may want to see a picture of your urinary tract. This can be done with X-rays or computed tomography (CT) scans. An X-ray can help find problems in the kidneys, ureter, or bladder. A CT scan uses X-rays and computer technology to create 3-D pictures of your urinary tract. 

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Cystoscopy. This is a procedure that lets your doctor look at the lining of your bladder and urethra. It's done with a small tube called a cystoscope. The cystoscope has a small camera attached to it. The cystoscope is inserted into your urethra and moved up into your bladder.  You may also have a ureteroscopy at the same time you have a cystoscopy. This procedure is done in a similar way. It uses an even smaller type of scope to look at the tubes that carry urine from your kidneys to your bladder. These tubes are called your ureters. 

If you are experiencing any unusual symptoms like those mentioned above, you may want to talk to your doctor about a urine cytology test. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: "What happens to biopsy and cytology specimens?"

MAYO CLINIC: "Cystoscopy," "Urine cytology."

Medline Plus: "Clean catch urine sample."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Urinary Tract Imaging."

NCH Healthcare System: "Urine cytology."

Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service: "Urine cytology (x three)."

UNIVERSITY of ROCHESTER MEDICAL CENTER: "Urine Cytology."

Urology Care Foundation: "What is Urine Cytology?"

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