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Cytotechnologist

By allied health world contributing writer

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What is the history of the cytology field?

In the 1920s, Greek physician and anatomist, Dr. George Nicholas Papanicolaou was the first to develop the “Papanicolaou Smear,” now commonly called the “Pap Smear” or “Pap Test.” The Pap Test has saved millions of women’s lives worldwide by detecting cervical and uterine cancer among other diseases of the female genital tract. Papanicolaou originally began collecting cervical smears while doing hormonal studies on women. He discovered that he could also detect cancer in its early stages. After Papanicolaou developed the pap smear, he began training others in this process. In the beginning, he trained medical doctors to read the pap smear slides. However, doctors could not keep up with the volume and didn’t want to be taken away from treating their patients. This is when it was determined that “cytologists” needed to be trained to prepare and interpret pap smear slides.

What other health care professionals do cytotechnologists work with?

CytotechnologistCytotechs mainly work with pathologists, which are doctors who use laboratory medicine to treat and diagnose patient illnesses. Cytotechnologists typically sign out their own negative or benign cases. If they see anything of concern or are uncertain, they flag those slides for the pathologist’s review and opinion.

In addition to the pathologist, cytotechs also oftentimes work with histotechnologists, who are trained to prepare tissue for examination by the pathologists. They also provide immunology stains for review by the cytotechnologist and pathologist.

Cytotechs may also work with clinical lab scientists, commonly called medical technologists, who handle the lab’s molecular testing. Sometimes when a doctor sends in a pap smear they also want a Genital Human Papillomavirus (HPV) test run on those cells. Also, if it has been determined that a women has breast cancer, molecular studies can be done by the cytotechnologist and pathologist to determine if the patient will respond to a particular type of chemotherapy.

Cytotechnologists also work with surgeons, interventional radiologists, gastroenterologists, and pulmonologists.

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