What is Urine Cytology?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2019
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Urine cytology is a microscopic examination of cells found in the urine. It is a diagnostic test that may be ordered if a doctor suspects that a patient has a cancerous growth in the urinary tract or if a patient appears to have a urinary inflammation or infection. The test is painless for patients and it is a very cost effective tool for diagnosis and follow up on medical treatments. Many labs have the capacity to handle urine cytology tests and can ship samples if their technicians are not able to examine them.

When people urinate, epithelial cells from inside the urinary tract are shed in the urine. In healthy individuals, there will be relatively few cells and they should all have a normal appearance. In people with urinary tract diseases, more cells will be present and some of the cells may have abnormalities. By examining the cells found in a urine sample, a lab technician can identify signs of disease.


Samples for urine cytology are usually collected by asking the patient for a clean catch sample, where the patient cleans the genitals, starts urinating to clear the urethra of any contaminants, and then finishes urinating in a sterile container. In some cases, a catheter may be used to collect urine if a sample cannot be collected by other means. It is important to avoid using the first urination of the day for urine cytology because it contains cells that have been carried overnight in the bladder and these cells may be degraded, leading to a false positive.

Urine cytology can be requested if a patient has bloody urine or other symptoms of infection or neoplasm, such as difficulty urinating, painful urination, strong smelling urine, discolored urine, and frequent urges to urinate. A doctor can also use this diagnostic test as a follow up for a patient who has received treatment for a urinary tract condition. If the treatment was successful, the urine cytology results should be clear, showing no abnormal cells in the urine.

The precision of this test varies. A lab technician can identify cellular changes but may not be able to determine what is causing the changes. If the cells are cancerous, additional testing will be needed to pinpoint the site of the cancer and stage it. If the urine shows signs of inflammation or infection, testing can be used to find the root cause so that it can be treated. Positive urine cytology results are usually verified with additional testing before treatment recommendations are made.


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Discuss this Article

Post 4

I have had bladder cancer and now have an ileal conduit and use a night drainage bag. How is it possible to do this test right, just wondering. --Barbara

Post 3

@hannah77- The nurse or lab tech should have told you! The reason it’s important is because the first part of the urine flow has been sitting in the urethra (tube that carries urine out of the body) and might have bacteria or other contaminants in it.

Your tests could show abnormal urine cytology because you didn't collect correctly. It might not be a bad idea to give the lab another sample.

Post 2

I had a urine culture done a few weeks ago but now I don’t think I collected the sample the right way. Everything I had, from first drop to last, went into the cup. I didn’t know I was supposed to only collect the last part. No one told me that. Does anyone know if it makes that much of a difference? Now I’m worried I ruined the test.

Post 1

When I was a volunteer overseas they made us do this test every six months as part of our medical checkups.

Although it was difficult at first, we all got used to drinking a bunch of tea or coffee beforehand, as that will really make you need to go.

Remember to take a little paper bag or something similar into the toilet with you as well. Our lab had the waiting room positioned between the doctor's office and the toilets, so if you didn't have a discrete bag to drop the sample into, all the waiting patients would get an eyeful.

I almost preferred the blood tests.

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