What is cytotechnology?
Cytotechnology is the microscopic study of the structure and and function of cells, and how these two factors change, leading to the indication of disease. The cellular changes may be represented in the nucleus, the cytoplasm, or both. The disease represented by these changes may be bacterial, viral, and/or cancerous. The cells studied in cytotechnology come from many different body sites, most commonly from the female genital tract (the Pap test). Other body sites include the respiratory tract, urinary tract, gastrointestinal tract, breast, central nervous system, lymph nodes, thyroid, salivary glands, liver, and any other body site deemed suspicious by the clinician. These different body sites, including the female genital tract, are sampled in many different ways. Some areas are sampled by scraping, washing, or brushing the area. Others require slighty invasive techniques, which include fine needle aspirations (FNA) and Wang needle biopsy. After the cells are sampled, they are sent to the cytology lab where they are stained and evaluated by the cytotechnologists and the pathologists. Once a diagnosis is reached, the patient's physician is informed, and the mode of treatment, if any, is determined by the clinician.
What does a cytotechnologist do?
A cytotechnologist screens gynecological and non-gynecological microscope slides daily for disease. He or she is responsible for determining whether the slide is normal or abnormal by correlating the patient's history and/or symptoms with what is seen on the slide through the microscope. If an abnormal change in the cells is observed, the cytotechnologist then sends his or her observations and the slide(s) to a pathologist for a definitive diagnosis. The cytotechnologist is also responsible for computer data entry (diagnoses, results, etc.) and record keeping. Depending on the institution where the cytotechnologist is employed, he or she may be responsible for other duties. These other duties may include preparing specimens and attending FNA procedures. There also may be an opportunity for cytotechnologists to advance in their careers, becoming supervisors, managers, and/or educators. Cytotechnologists are employed at hospitals, commercial labs, universities and in research.