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Cytology exam of pleural fluid

Definition

A cytology exam of pleural fluid is a laboratory test to detect cancer cells and certain other cells in the area that surrounds the lungs. This is called the pleural space.

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 used to look for cancer and precancerous cells, or more rarely for other conditions (like seeing systemic erythematosous cells).  

Your doctor may order this test if you have signs of fluid buildup in area surrounding the lungs, a condition called pleural effusion. The test may also be done if you have signs of lung cancer.

Normal Values

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:

What the risks are

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

Broaddus C, Light RW. Pleural effusion. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus CV, Martin TR, et al, eds. Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 73.

Celli BR. Diseases of the diaphragm, chest wall, pleura, and mediastinum. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 99.

 

Review Date: 8/30/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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