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 area is called the pleural space. Cytology means the study of cells.
A sample of fluid from the pleural space is needed. The sample is taken using a procedure called thoracentesis.
The procedure is done in the following way:
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.
No special preparation is needed before the test. A chest x-ray will be performed before and after the test.
Do not cough, breathe deeply, or move during the test to avoid injury to the lung.
You will feel stinging when the local anesthetic is injected. You may feel pain or pressure when the needle is inserted into the pleural space.
Tell your health care provider if you feel short of breath or have chest pain.
A cytology exam is used to look for cancer and precancerous cells. It may also be done for other conditions, such as identifying systemic lupus erythematosus cells.
Your doctor may order this test if you have signs of fluid buildup in the pleural space. This condition is called pleural effusion. The test may also be done if you have signs of lung cancer.
Normal cells are seen.
In an abnormal test, there are cancerous (malignant) cells. This may mean there is a cancerous tumor. This test most often detects:
Pleural fluid cytology
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Ruhl TS, Good JL. Thoracentesis. In: Pfenninger JL, Fowler GC, eds. Pfenninger & Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 95.
Silvestri GA, Jett JR. Clinical aspects of lung cancer. In: Mason RJ, Murray JF, Broaddus VC, et al., eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 47.
Updated by: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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