Home > Health Library > Sputum Cytology
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 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:
Sputum cytology is done to
No special preparation is
required if the sputum sample is to be collected at home or in your doctor's
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 formmedical 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
Three sputum samples are
usually collected over 3 days. Your doctor will give you a container to collect
the sputum. This container may have a small amount of liquid (called fixative)
in it. The fixative helps preserve the sample. Do not drink this liquid.
For best results, collect the sample in the morning right after waking
up. Follow these steps:
Carefully follow your doctor's instructions about where
to deliver the sample. You may be instructed to take the sample to the doctor's
office or to a laboratory. Deliver the sample soon after you obtain it. You may
be instructed to refrigerate the sample if you are not able to deliver it
During bronchoscopy, a thin, lighted instrument (bronchoscope) is inserted through the nose or mouth into the throat and then into the airways leading to the lungs.
To learn more about how the procedure is done, see the topic
If you have discomfort when taking a deep
breath or coughing, getting a sputum sample may be uncomfortable.
You may be able to feel pressure in your airway as the bronchoscope is moved from place to place. You may gag or cough. If you have general anesthesia, you will feel nothing during the procedure. To learn more about how the procedure feels, see the topic Bronchoscopy.
There is no risk linked
with collecting a sputum sample at home or at your doctor's office.
Bronchoscopy is generally a
safe procedure. Although complications are rare, you should discuss the risks
in your particular case with your doctor. Complications that may occur
Sputum cytology examines a sample of
sputum (mucus) under a microscope to determine whether abnormal cells are
present. It may take several days to receive results from a sputum
Normal lung cells are present in the sputum
Abnormal cells are present in the sputum
sample. Abnormal cells may mean lung conditions such as
pneumonia, inflammation, the buildup of asbestos
fibers in the lungs (asbestosis), or
Reasons you may not be able to
have the test or why the results may not be helpful include a sample that is
too small; is dried out; contains only saliva; or is from nasal secretions, not
Other Works Consulted
Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis:
Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009).
Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed.
Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby’s Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby.
Current as of:
November 1, 2012
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Robert L. Cowie, MB, FCP(SA), MD, MSc, MFOM - Pulmonology
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
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