The test is usually used to look for cancers and precancerous changes. It may also be used to look for viral infections in cells. The test differs from a biopsy because only cells are examined, not pieces of tissue.

The Pap smear is a common cytologic evaluation that looks at cells from the cervix. Some other examples include:

  • Cytology exam of fluid from the membrane around the lungs (pleural fluid).
  • Cytology exam of urine.
  • Cytology exam of saliva mixed with mucus and other matter that is coughed up (sputum).

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