Your urinary system — which includes your kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra — removes waste from your body through urine. Your kidneys, located in the rear portion of your upper abdomen, produce urine by filtering waste and fluid from your blood.
Urine cytology is a test to look for abnormal cells in your urine. It's used with other tests and procedures to diagnose urinary tract cancers, most often bladder cancer.
Your doctor might recommend a urine cytology test if you have blood in your urine (hematuria).
For people who've been diagnosed with bladder cancer and have undergone treatment, a urine cytology test can help detect a recurrence.
Why it's done
Urine cytology is used with other tests and procedures to diagnose cancers of the urinary tract, including:
- Bladder cancer
- Cancer of the ureter
- Cancer of the urethra
It's generally used for people who have signs or symptoms of urinary tract cancer, such as blood in the urine.
Urine cytology can best detect larger and more-aggressive urinary tract cancers. It might not detect small urinary tract cancers that grow more slowly.
Risks of urine cytology testing depend on how your urine is collected. Most often, people undergoing the test urinate into a sterile container, which carries no risk.
Collecting urine by inserting a hollow tube (catheter) into your urethra carries a risk of urinary tract infection.
How you prepare
Schedule your test for after your first morning urination. Cells held overnight in your bladder, which are eliminated during your first morning urination, might be degraded, making them difficult to analyze in the laboratory.
What you can expect
During the procedure
A urine cytology test requires a urine sample, which you provide 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.
After the procedure
Your urine sample is sent to a lab for testing by a doctor who specializes in examining body tissues (pathologist). The pathologist analyzes cells from the urine sample under a microscope, notes the types of cells and looks for signs in the cells that might indicate cancer.
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.
Different labs have different ways of describing the results of a urine cytology test. Some common words used in pathology reports include:
- Unsatisfactory specimen. This can mean that not enough cells or the wrong types of cells were found in your urine sample. You may need to repeat the test.
- Negative. This means no cancer cells were identified in your urine sample.
- Atypical. This indicates that some abnormalities were found in your urine sample cells, but they weren't abnormal enough to be considered cancer.
- Suspicious. The urine cells were abnormal and might 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, your doctor will likely recommend a cystoscopy procedure and a CT scan to further examine your bladder and urinary tract.
Content Last Updated: December 3, 2020