Mayo Clinic Health Library

Urine cytology

Updated: 11-02-2011

Definition

Urine cytology is a test to look for abnormal cells in your urine. Urine cytology is used along with other tests and procedures to diagnose urinary tract cancers. Urine cytology is most often used to diagnose bladder cancer, though the test may also detect kidney cancer, prostate cancer, ureter cancer and urethra cancer.

Your doctor may recommend a urine cytology test if blood has been detected in your urine (hematuria). Urine cytology may also be used in people who have already been diagnosed with bladder cancer and have undergone treatment. In these cases, a urine cytology test may help detect a bladder cancer recurrence.

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Why it's done

Urine cytology is used along with other tests and procedures to diagnose cancers of the urinary tract, including:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Ureter cancer
  • Urethra cancer

Urine cytology can best detect larger and more-aggressive urinary tract cancers. Urine cytology might not detect small urinary tract cancers that grow more slowly.

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Risks

Risks of urine cytology testing depend on how your urine is collected. Most often urine is collected by urinating into a sterile container, which carries no risk. If your urine is collected by inserting a hollow tube (catheter) into your urethra, there is a risk of urinary tract infection. Ask your doctor about the specific risks of your procedure.

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How you prepare

To prepare for your urine cytology test, try to schedule your test for sometime after your first morning urination. Urine eliminated during your first morning urination can't be used for urine cytology. Cells held overnight in your bladder may be degraded, making them difficult to analyze in the laboratory.

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What you can expect

Collecting a urine sample for testing
A urine cytology test requires a urine sample. Most often this is obtained by urinating into a sterile container. In some cases, a urine sample is collected using a thin, hollow tube (catheter) that's inserted into your urethra and moved up to your bladder.

Your doctor may ask you to provide additional urine samples on subsequent days. Testing multiple urine samples that have been collected over several days may increase the accuracy of urine cytology testing.

Examining the urine sample in the laboratory
Your urine sample is sent to a laboratory for testing by a doctor who specializes in examining body tissues (pathologist). The pathologist analyzes any cells seen in the urine sample under a microscope. The pathologist notes the types of cells and looks for signs in the cells that might indicate cancer.

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Results

The pathologist will send the results of your urine cytology test to your doctor, who will report the results to you. Ask your doctor how long you can expect to wait for your results.

Each laboratory has its own way of describing the results of a urine cytology exam. Some common words used in pathology reports include:

  • Unsatisfactory specimen. This may mean that not enough cells or the wrong types of cells were found in your urine sample. You may need to repeat the urine cytology test.
  • Negative. This means no cancer cells were identified in your urine sample.
  • Atypical. This indicates some abnormalities were found in the cells in your urine sample. But while the cells weren't normal, they weren't abnormal enough to be considered cancer.
  • Suspicious. This term may indicate that urine cells were abnormal and may be cancerous.
  • Positive. A positive result indicates that cancer cells were found in your urine.

A urine cytology test can't be used alone to diagnose cancer. If atypical or cancerous cells are detected using urine cytology, your doctor will likely recommend a cystoscopy procedure or computerized tomography (CT) scan to examine your bladder and urinary tract for abnormalities.

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