COVID-19 Resources: Keeping you safe | Vaccine Information | Visitor Policy and Hours
View All Services
Find a New Primary Care Provider
Search by Specialty
View All Locations
Discover classes, events, tours, and groups that fit your interests.
Home > Be Healthy > Health Library > Sputum Cytology
Sputum cytology examines a sample of sputum (mucus) under a microscope to determine whether abnormal cells are present. Sputum is not the same as saliva. Sputum is produced in the lungs and in the airways leading to the lungs. Sputum has some normal lung cells in it.
Sputum cytology may be done to help detect certain noncancerous lung conditions. It may also be done when lung cancer is suspected.
A sputum sample may be collected:
Sputum cytology is done to find:
No special preparation is needed if the sputum sample is to be collected at home or in your doctor's office.
Your doctor will tell you how soon before the procedure to stop eating and drinking. Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking, or your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor has instructed you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, please do so using only a sip of water.
Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
Three sputum samples are usually collected over 3 days. Your doctor will give you a container to collect the sputum. This container may have a small amount of liquid (called fixative) in it. The fixative helps preserve the sample. Do not drink this liquid.
For best results, collect the sample in the morning right after waking up. Follow these steps:
Carefully follow your doctor's instructions about where to deliver the sample. You may be instructed to take the sample to the doctor's office or to a laboratory. Deliver the sample soon after you obtain it. You may be instructed to refrigerate the sample if you are not able to deliver it immediately.
During bronchoscopy, a thin, lighted instrument (bronchoscope) is inserted through the nose or mouth into the throat and then into the airways leading to the lungs.
If you have discomfort when taking a deep breath or coughing, getting a sputum sample may be uncomfortable.
You may be able to feel pressure in your airway as the bronchoscope is moved from place to place. You may gag or cough. If you have general anesthesia, you will feel nothing during the procedure.
There are no known risks from having this test.
Bronchoscopy is generally a safe procedure. Although complications are rare, you should discuss the risks in your particular case with your doctor. Complications that may occur include:
It may take several days to receive results from a sputum cytology.
Normal lung cells are present in the sputum sample.
Abnormal cells are present in the sputum sample. Abnormal cells may mean lung conditions such as pneumonia, inflammation, the buildup of asbestos fibers in the lungs (asbestosis), or lung cancer.
Current as of:
June 17, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Adam Husney MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineElizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Current as of: June 17, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.