Exfoliative Cytology

Posted October 1, 2022 by Anusha ‐ 2 min read

Exfoliative cytology is a branch of cytology in which the cells that a pathologist examines are either shed by your body naturally or are manually scraped or brushed (exfoliated) from the surface of your tissue.

What is Cytology?

  • Cytology (also known as cytopathology) involves examining cells from bodily tissues or fluids to determine a diagnosis.

  • A certain kind of physician, called a pathologist, will look at the cells in the tissue sample under a microscope and look for characteristics or abnormalities in the cells.

  • Since cytology only examines cells, which are so tiny, pathologists only need a very small sample of tissue to do a cytology test.

Examples of exfoliative cytology that involve manual tissue brushing or scraping include

Gynecological samples

A Pap smear, which involves brushing off cells from your cervix using a swab, is the most well-known type of exfoliative cytology.

Gastrointestinal tract samples

Your healthcare provider can brush off cells from the lining of your gastrointestinal tract (your stomach and intestines) during an endoscopy procedure for cytology testing.

Skin or mucus samples

Your healthcare provider can scrape off cells from your skin or mucous membranes, such as the inside of your nose or mouth, for cytology testing.

Examples of exfoliative cytology that involve collecting tissues or fluids that your body naturally sheds include

Respiratory samples

Your provider can collect fluids such as spit and mucus (also called phlegm or sputum) that you cough up for a respiratory cytology test.

Urinary samples

Your provider can collect a urine sample from you to use for a cytology test.

Discharge or secretion samples

If you experience abnormal bodily discharge, such as from your eye, vagina or nipple, your healthcare provider may collect a sample of the discharge for a cytology test.

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