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Cytology exam of pleural fluid

Definition

A cytology examination of pleural fluid is a laboratory test to detect cancerous cells in the pleural space, the area that surrounds the lungs.

See: Cytologic evaluation

Alternative Names

Pleural fluid cytology

How the Test is Performed

A sample of fluid from the pleural space is needed. For information on how the sample is obtained, see: Thoracentesis.

The fluid sample is sent to a laboratory where it is examined under the microscope to determine what the cells look like, and whether they are abnormal. "Cytology" refers to the study of cells.

How to Prepare for the Test

The laboratory test requires no preparation. For information on how to prepare for removal of the fluid sample, see: Thoracentesis

How the Test Will Feel

See: Thoracentesis

Why the Test is Performed

A cytology exam is often used to look for cancers and precancerous changes. Your doctor may order a cytology examination of pleural fluid if you have signs of cancer, or to find the cause of fluid buildup in the pleural space, a condition called pleural effusion.

Normal Results

Normal cells are seen.

What Abnormal Results Mean

In an abnormal test, there are cancerous (malignant) cells. This may mean there is a cancerous tumor. This test most often detects:

This test may also be done for cancer that has spread to the lung.

Risks

There are no risks involved with a cytology exam.

For information risks related to the procedure to remove a sample of pleural fluid, see: Thoracentesis

References

Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Niederhuber JE, Kastan MB, McKenna WG. Clinical Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Churchill Livingstone; 2004.

Light RW. The undiagnosed pleural effusion. Clin Chest Med. 2006;27:309-319.


Review Date: 9/13/2008
Reviewed By: Benjamin Medoff, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Pulmonary and Critical Care Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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