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Manual for Cytology Manuals for Training in Cancer Control

Demographic and epidemiological transitions and changes in lifestyle are leading to the
emergence of cancer and other chronic diseases as public health problems in India. Cancer
pattern in India reveals the predominance of tobacco related cancers, which are amenable
to primary prevention. Cancer Registries in different parts of the country reveal that majority
of cancer cases present in an advanced stage and makes treatment options prolonged and
expensive. Therefore, the National Cancer Control Programme has placed its emphasis on
prevention, early detection, enhancement of therapy facilities and provision of pain and
palliative care. Comprehensive legislation on tobacco by the Government of India will help
to control the tobacco related cancers. The programme has been able to augment the
treatment capacity and to address the geographical gaps in cancer care services. Awareness
and early detection programmes are undertaken through District Cancer Control
Health care personnel have a major role in providing awareness, promoting early detection,
prompt referral to a cancer treatment facility and in providing pain relief and palliative care.
The knowledge and skills in the above areas have to be enhanced and these manuals have
been developed in response to this need. This set of manuals, which consists of a facilitators’
manual and separate manuals for health professionals, cytology, tobacco cessation and
palliative care, is an attempt at providing the minimum required capacity. The manuals are
self explanatory and will help the trainers, who will be from Regional Cancer Centres and
other cancer treatment centres.
The manuals and the compact disc will be widely disseminated and same will be available
on the website of the Ministry of Health and Welfare. The National Cancer Control Programme
will urge that these may be used in cancer control training programmes in various settings.
Joint Secretary
Tele: 23061706
Fax: 23061398
Role of Diagnostic Cytology
Diagnostic cytology is the science of interpretation of cells that are either exfoliated from
epithelial surfaces or removed from various tissues. George N Papanicolou introduced
cytology as a tool to detect cancer and pre-cancer in 1928. It is now a widely accepted
method for mass screening in asymptomatic population. Many European countries have
achieved reduction in incidence of cervical cancer by systematic pap smear screening of
the population.
The advantages of diagnostic cytology are that it is a non-invasive, simple procedure, helps
in faster reporting, is relatively inexpensive, has high population acceptance and facilitates
cancer screening in the field. Diagnostic cytology can be carried out by different methods,
which includes collection and examination of exfoliated cells such as vaginal scrapes, sputum,
urine, body fluids etc. Collection of cells by brushing, scraping or abrasive techniques is
usually employed to confirm or exclude malignancy. Fibreoptic endoscopes and other
procedures can be used for collecting samples directly from the internal organs.
Fine-Needle Aspiration Cytology/ Biopsy (FNAC/FNAB) is now a widely accepted diagnostic
procedure, which has largely replaced open biopsy. This method is applicable to lesions
that are easily palpable, for example swellings in Thyroid, Breast, superficial Lymph node
etc. Imaging techniques, mainly ultra-sonography and computed tomography, offer an
opportunity for guided FNAC of deeper structures.
The practice of diagnostic cytology needs proper training of the laboratory personnel including
cytopathologist, cytotechnologist and cytotechnician. The role of cytotechnician is very
important in cancer control programmes where large numbers of asymptomatic population
have to be screened.
The accuracy of the cytologic examination from any body site depends greatly on the quality
of collection, preparation, staining and interpretation of the material. Inadequacy in any of
these steps will adversely affect the quality of diagnostic cytology.
Diagnostic accuracy and reliability are major issues in cytology practice. Over the years
many quality control measures have been introduced for ensuring high standards in cytology,
Among them the most important are regular continuing education of medical and technical
personnel, certification and accreditation of laboratory to national authorities such as Indian
Academy of Cytologists (IAC), introduction of quality assurance and quality control measures,
computerization, introduction of internationally accepted terminology, improvement of sample
preparation techniques, quantitative and analytical cytology techniques and advanced
technologies including automation.
Collection and Preparation of Material
for Cytodiagnosis
Accurate interpretation of cellular material is dependent on the following factors:
● Methods of specimen collection.
● Fixation and fixatives.
● Preservation of fluid specimens prior to processing.
● Preparation of material for microscopic examination.
● Staining and mounting of the cell sample.
Methods of specimen collection
Individual cells may be studied in many ways.
A. Exfoliative Cytology: It is the study of cells that have been shed or removed
from the epithelial surface of various organs. Cells from all organs, which communicate
with the exterior of the body, are suitable for study. These cells can be recovered either
from natural secretions such as urine, sputum and vaginal or prostate fluids or by artificial
means such as paracentesis or lavage. The cells can be collected from the epithelial surfaces
by lightly scraping the surface, by swabbing, aspirating or washing the surfaces.
Normal cells are cohesive in nature but exfoliated when they attain maturation. During
malignant conditions or during infection, the exfoliation becomes exaggerated and the
epithelial cells show variation in morphology. Such exfoliated cells, when collected and
appropriately stained, give information on the living epithelium from which they are derived.
These characteristic cellular and nuclear appearances in cells thrown off from healthy
epithelium, differ distinctly from those, derived from inflamed or malignant lesions. Thus by
studying the alterations in morphology of the exfoliated cells and their pattern, the diagnosis
of various pathologic conditions can be made.
B. Fine Needle Aspiration Cytology (FNAC): This is a technique used to
obtain material from organs that do not shed cells spontaneously. It is valuable in diagnosis
of lesions of the breast, thyroid, lymph nodes, liver, lungs, skin, soft tissues and bones.
C. Body Fluids: Body fluids like Urine, Pleural fluid, Pericardial fluid, Cerebrospinal
fluid, Synovial fluid and Ascitic fluid can be studied by cytology.
Manual for Cytology
Collection and Preparation of Material for Cytodiagnosis
Female Genital Tract (FGT)
The cytological specimens collected from FGT include cervical smear, vaginal smear,
aspiration from posterior fornix of vagina (vaginal pool smear) and endometrial smear.
Cervical smear: Cancer of the uterine cervix is the commonest cancer in the FGT. Almost
all invasive cancers of the cervix are preceded by a phase of preinvasive disease, which
demonstrates microscopically a continuing spectrum of events progressing from cervical
intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) grade I to III including carcinoma in-situ before progressing
to squamous cell carcinoma. This progressive course takes about 10 to 20 years. Early
detection even at the preinvasive stage is possible by doing cervical smear (Pap Smear
Test). This can identify patients who are likely to develop cancer and appropriate interventions
may be carried out.
Advantages of Pap Smear:
● It is painless and simple
● Does not cause bleeding
● Does not need anesthesia
● Can detect cancer and precancer
● Can identify non-specific and specific inflammations
● Can be carried out as an outpatient procedure
Patient Preparation: Proper patient preparation is the beginning of good cervical cytology.
The patient should be instructed before coming for smear collection, that she should not
douche the vagina for at least a day before the examination. No intravaginal drugs or
preparations should be used for at least one week before the examination and the patient
should abstain from coitus for one day before the examination. Smear should not be taken
during menstrual bleeding, because of contamination with blood, endometrial component,
debris and histiocytes.
Sampling: A cervical cytological sample is considered satisfactory for cytological diagnosis
when their composition reflects the mucosal lining of the cervix, encompassing ectocervical,
squamous metaplastic cells and endocervical columnar cells in fair numbers. It is generally
agreed that majority of epithelial abnormalities that eventually lead to an invasive cancer
originate in the squamo-columnar junction (transformation zone). As stated by the British
Society for Clinical Cytology (BSCC), a cervical smear if properly taken should contain cells
from the whole transformation zone(TZ). The sample should contain a sufficient quantity of
epithelial cells, and both metaplastic and columnar cells should be present. According to
the Bethesda System, an adequate smear contains an adequate endocervical/transformation
zone component. Lubricant should not be used while examining, as it can obscure the cells
during smear examination.
Manual for Cytology
Fig. 2 : Cervex brush
Preparation of smear Fig. 1
Factors affecting specimen collection:
The experience of the person who is taking
the smear is very important in getting smears
with adequate cellular composition.
Clinicians must receive appropriate training
in taking cervical scrape samples and slide
preparation. The cervix must be clearly
visualized and the entire transformationzone
is scraped. It is also the responsibility
of sample takers and quality assurance
programmes to monitor the quality of
specimens, so as to minimize / avoid
inadequate samples and preparation / fixation artifacts. Periodic feed back to clinicians
regarding the quality of their samples is important in this regard.
Sampling Devices: The collection device may play an important role in sample adequacy.
The shape, surface, texture and material of the device may determine how much of the
scraped material is deposited on to the glass slide and is available for screening and analysis.
Several methods of obtaining cytologic material from the uterine cervix are available.
However, use of cotton swab for collection of cervical smear is to be discouraged, in view of
the drying artifacts and loss of cells, which are caused by this method.
● Smears obtained with original Ayre’s spatula are often easier to screen. Wooden spatula
is preferable to plastic spatula, because of its mildly rough surface that can collect more
material. The disadvantages are that the method may occasionally be traumatic to the
patient, and the tip of spatula that does not fit the external os may fail to remove some
of the valuable material from the squamo-columnar junction. (Figure 1)
● Based on the original wooden Ayre’s spatula, many devices of different shapes and
sizes have been introduced to improve sampling. This includes Endo-cervical Brush,
Cervex, Cytobrush, etc.
The pointed Aylesbury version of cervical spatula was designed to sample cells
from both endocervix and the transformation zone (TZ) of the cervix.
The Cervex brush device is a flexible
plastic brush, which follows the shape of
the endocervix, transformation zone and
ectocervix as well and is suitable for every
cervix shape. (Figure 2)
Collection and Preparation of Material for Cytodiagnosis
Fig. 3 : Endo-cervical brush
Endo-cervical brush is a small bottlebrush
like device with one end having fine bristles
made up of nylons. This device is strictly
for taking materials from endocervix. Gently
insert the brush in endocervix and rotate
one turn pressing in the upper and lower
wall. (Figure 3)
The cytobrush is similar to that of endocervical brush except that the projected tip is
without bristles. This can be used for obtaining cells from the whole cervix.
Single sampling devices and methods have their limitations in obtaining adequate smears
from the cervix. A combination of two devices, usually spatula and endocervical brush, give
better results. Triple smear or the vaginal-cervical-endocervical (VCE) technique can provide
the best results. However, feasibility and cost factor need to be taken into consideration.
In postmenopausal women, the squamo-columnar junction recedes making it difficult to
obtain good amount of endocervical cells and cells from TZ. Hence a combination of two
devices, spatula plus endocervical brush is preferred. In those with a prolapsed uterus, the
cervix is first soaked with normal saline and scrape is collected with cytobrush. To obtain a
satisfactory smear from a bleeding cervix, the blood is wiped with wet cotton and smear is
obtained by wooden spatula.
There has been some concern that the use of the endocervical brush can result in the
appearance of a much greater number of endocervical cells in a smear and that their
arrangement in large sheets might mimic malignancy. To avoid this problem clinicians should
inform the laboratory when an endocervical brush is used for collecting the smear.
Preparation of Smear: After smear collection, the cellular sample is evenly smeared on to
the centre of the non-frosted area of the glass slide, by rotating both sides of the scrape end
of the spatula in multiple clockwise swirls in contact with the slide and fixing it immediately
Excessively thin or thick smears can result in false-negative reports. The smear should be
visually inspected after fixation. If it does not appear satisfactory, repeat it during the same
examination and submit both slides for cytological examination.
Some studies have shown that two-slide cervical smears detect more abnormalities than a
one-slide smear. Two smears do increase screening costs over a single-slide smear, but
those costs are not double that of a single-slide examination. A two-instrument collection on
a single slide increases screening time only minimally over a single instrument.
Vaginal smear: Introduce an unlubricated speculum, scrape the lateral vaginal wall at
the level of cervix with a spatula. The broad and flat end of Ayre’s spatula is used for this
purpose. The cellular material is rapidly but gently smeared on a clean glass slide and the
smears are fixed immediately. If no spatula is available a cotton swab dipped in normal
saline can be used.
Manual for Cytology
Vaginal pool smear: The aspiration can be performed after the introduction of
unlubricated speculum. The technique allows collection of cells under direct vision from
posterior fornix pool. When a speculum is not employed the pipette is gently introduced in
to the vagina until resistance is encountered. It is important to compress the suction bulb
during the introduction of the pipette to avoid collecting the cellular material of the lower
vaginal origin. The cellular material is spread on a clean glass slide and fixed immediately.
Endometrial aspiration smear: After preliminary visualization and cleaning of cervix
a sterile cannula is introduced into the uterine cavity and aspiration is then carried out with
a syringe. The specimen is squirted on a clean glass slide, gently spread and rapidly fixed.
Respiratory Tract
Respiratory tract malignancies can be detected mainly by sputum cytology or by
bronchoscopic material.
Sputum Cytology: Sputum specimen can be obtained from the patient either
spontaneously or by aerosol – induced method. Morning specimen resulting from overnight
accumulation of secretion yields best results. Three to five consecutive days’ sputum samples
should be examined to ensure maximum diagnostic accuracy. Fresh unfixed specimens
are better than prefixed specimens in 70% ethyl alcohol or coating fixative such as carbowax
or saccomano fixative. (Fixation of slides is discussed in a separate chapter)
The sputum must be carefully inspected by pouring the specimen into a petri dish and
examining on a dark background. Select any bloody, discolored or solid particles, if present,
place a small portion of each particle on a micro slide, spread evenly and fix it immediately.
Prefixed specimens should be smeared on albumen or polylysine coated slides.
Bronchoscopic Specimens: Specimens that are obtained by bronchoscopy are
secretions (bronchio-alveolar lavage), direct needle aspirate from suspicious area and
bronchial brushing and washings. Post bronchoscopic sputum is one of the most valuable
specimens for the detection of pulmonary lesions.
Other Sites
Oral lesions: Scrape the lesion with a tongue depressor, spread material on a clean
slide and fix immediately.
Nasopharynx: Cotton tipped applicator is used to obtain material for cytological
Larynx: A cotton swab smear of larynx may be a useful adjunct to clinical diagnosis if
biopsy is not contemplated.
Collection and Preparation of Material for Cytodiagnosis
Oesophageal washing and brushing are usually recommended for collecting cytology sample
from oesophagus. To collect a good specimen for cytology one should first localize the
suspicious lesion by oesophagoscopy .
Cytology specimen can be collected from the surface of the lesion by scraping (abrasion)
under direct vision of a flexible endoscope. The cells collected can be directly smeared on
a glass slide. Gastric lavage is also recommended for cytological investigations.
Discharge from nipple of the breast
Spontaneous nipple discharge and discharge produced by breast massage are collected
by applying the slide directly to the nipple followed by immediate fixation.
Procedure, Preparation and Preservation:
FNAC is the study of cellular samples obtained through a fine needle under negative pressure.
The technique is relatively painless and inexpensive. When performed by well-trained
pathologists / surgeons / clinicians and reported by experienced pathologists, it can provide
unequivocal diagnosis in most of the situations.
It is useful in lesions that are easily palpable, like growth of skin, subcutaneous soft tissue
tumours, thyroid, lymph nodes, salivary glands and breast. Guided aspiration by internal
imaging techniques like C.T or ultrasonography allows FNA of lesions of internal organs
like lung, mediastinum, abdominal and retroperitoneal organs, prostate etc. The low risk of
complications allows it to be performed as an out-patient procedure. It is highly suitable in
debilitated patients, multiple lesions and easily repeatable.
The three pre-requisites for a meaningful diagnosis on FNAC are:
1. Proper technique - procedure, preparation of smears, fixation, staining.
2. Microscopic evaluation of smears.
3. Correlation of morphology with the clinical picture
(history, clinical features, radiological and laboratory findings).
The Technique: Attention to technique is necessary to optimize the yield of the sample,
making its interpretation easier and more reliable. Expertise regarding the technique comes
from constant practice and correlation of the smear technique with the results (feedback).
Manual for Cytology
Equipment: The success or failure of the aspiration procedure depends to some extent
on the organization of the set up. Some institutions set aside appropriately equipped areas
dedicated to the procedure. Otherwise, the materials can be arranged on movable carts or
even in portable containers. Thus FNA can be performed as an outpatient procedure or at
the patient’s bedside.
Needles: Standard disposable 22-24 gauge 1-1½-inch needles are used for plain FNAC.
The length and caliber of the needle should fit the size, depth, location and the consistency
of the target. For small subcutaneous lesions, one-inch 23-gauge needle is ideal while for a
deep-seated breast lesion, longer and larger needle is required. Finer needles are also
recommended for children, and for vascular organs like thyroid.
Syringes: Standard disposable plastic syringes of 10ml are used. Syringe should be of good
quality and should produce good negative pressure. 5cc syringes can be used for vascular
organs like thyroid. One important factor is to check the tight fit of the needle on the syringe
tip. A loosely fitting needle can render the procedure useless and may injure the patient.
Syringe holder: A syringe piston handle can be used, leaving one hand free to immobilize the
lesion. This is not absolutely essential and is a matter of choice of the aspirator.
Slides: Plain glass slides of good quality are used. Slides should be clean, dry, transparent
and grease free.
Fixative: 95% ethyl alcohol is recommended. Fixative is kept ready in Coplin jars.
Other supplies: Test tubes, pencil for marking, alcohol, swabs for skin, watchglass, saline,
adhesive dressing, gloves etc. are needed. All the materials required are assembled in
advance before starting the procedure. This is extremely important as delay in fixation can
make interpretation of smears difficult.
Aspiration Procedure (Figure 4)
Steps to be followed before performing the aspiration
1. Relevant history and clinical details, radiological findings, provisional diagnosis etc.
must be entered in the requisition form. Site of FNA must be clearly stated.
2. Lesion to be aspirated is palpated and its suitability for aspiration assessed.
The appropriate needle is selected accordingly.
3. The procedure must be clearly explained to the patient and consent and co-operation
ensured. Patient may be anxious which needs to be allayed. Ignoring this simple but
crucial step can result in failure.
4. Before starting the procedure, ensure that all the required equipment, instruments
and supplies are available.
5. All universal precautions should be followed during the procedure.
Collection and Preparation of Material for Cytodiagnosis
Steps to be followed in the actual performance of the aspiration:
● Positioning the patient: Any comfortable position can be chosen depending on the
convenience to palpate the lesion and the comfort of the patient. FNA is usually carried
out with the patient lying supine on an examination couch.
● Immobilization of the lesion: Skin is cleansed firmly with an alcohol swab (as used for
routine injection). Local anesthetic may not be necessary. Apprehensive patients must
be reassured about the procedure.
The lesion is fixed between the thumb and index finger of the left hand, with the skin
stretched. Try to avoid significant muscle mass eg. sternocleidomastoid, while fixing the
lesion because it is not only painful, but also muscle tends to plug the needle tip, preventing
further material from entering the needle.
● Penetrating the lesion: Fixing the lesion with one hand, grasp the syringe with the
needle attached (with or without syringe holder) by the dominant hand and introduce
through the skin into the lesion, carefully and swiftly. The angle and depth of entry varies
with the type of lesion. For small lesions, aspiration of central portion is indicated. For
larger lesions that may have necrosis, cystic change or hemorrhage in the center,
aspiration may be done from the periphery. If pus or necrotic material alone is aspirated
from larger lesions, FNA can be repeated immediately from the periphery. With experience,
a change in tissue consistency will be felt as the needle enters the lesion. If the needle
goes tangentially missing a small slippery lesion or if penetrates beyond the lesion,
representative material will not be obtained.
Note: If the site of FNA is located near the thoracic cage e.g. axillary or supraclavicular
swelings, aspiration is better performed in a plane parallel to the thoracic cage
to avoid pneumothrax. In thyroid FNA, patient should be instructed not to swallow
or talk when the needle is inside the nodule.
● Creation of a vacuum and obtaining the material: Suction is applied after entering the
lesion and while maintaining the suction, needle is moved vigorously back and forth in a
sawing or cutting motion, changing the direction a few times, ensuring that the needle is
inside the mass throughout; the whole procedure taking only 4-8 seconds. Do not rotate
the needle or pump the plunger in the syringe in and out. Purpose of suction is to pull the
tissue against the cutting edge of the needle and to pull the dislodged tissue fragments
and cells into the lumen of the needle. Material is procured by cutting motion of the
needle and not by suction. This is evident in the non-aspiration technique in which the
needle alone is moved back and forth in the lesion and withdrawn. Admixture with blood
is less with this technique and is useful in thyroid aspiration.
Manual for Cytology
When the needle is moved in different directions, it samples a much wider area than a
core biopsy (FNA is thus more representative than a core biopsy). The to and fro
movements and changing the direction of the needle, while it is still inside the lesion are
the two crucial steps in procuring an adequate representative sample.
Movement of the needle is adjusted according to the type of lesion. A sclerotic lesion will
require more force than a soft tumor. A cyst will almost aspirate by itself. When fluid is
aspirated, its color, consistency and amount should be recorded in the requisition form,
which allows the lesion to be recognized as cystic. Fluid can be sent in a bottle for
centrifugation and preparation of smear. In cystic lesions, especially of breast and salivary
gland, a large cyst may obscure a small malignant tumor. Hence cysts should be
completely aspirated (fluid is sent for centrifugation) and residual lump if any, should be
re-aspirated and labeled separately.
In sclerotic / fibrotic lesions e.g. Breast, little or no material will be obtained and the
aspiration should not be continued indefinitely. There is no use trying a wider bore needle;
in fact a finer needle may succeed in obtaining more material.
Vascular organs like thyroid must be sampled rapidly with minimal movement of the
needle. If blood appears in the barrel of the syringe, the procedure is discontinued as
blood will dilute the sample and render it diagnostically useless. Except for cystic lesions
or vascular organs, nothing should be seen in the barrel of the syringe. Thus the purpose
of syringe is not to collect material, but to provide suction facilitating entry of cells into the
needle and then to expel them from the needle, while making smears.
Observations while doing the aspiration regarding site, size, and consistency (solid / cystic/
soft / sclerotic / vascular) must be correlated while interpreting the smears later. The clinician/
pathologist should record all these relevant observations in the requisition form.
● Release of vacuum and withdrawal of the needle: When material is seen in the hub of
the needle, procedure is discontinued. Before withdrawing the needle, suction is released
and needle pulled straight out. The piston is just allowed to slowly fall back by itself
(never push). Failure to release negative pressure within the lesion will cause the aspirated
material to enter the syringe, which is difficult to recover. In desperate situations, syringe
and the needle can be rinsed with saline or fixative and then centrifuged to prepare a
smear. Immediately after withdrawing the needle, firm local pressure is applied at the
site for sometime, preferably by an assistant. This is to prevent bruising or haematoma
formation especially in thyroid, breast etc.
Note: If a cork of tissue is obtained during FNA or if the sample clots quickly, entrapping
the cells, the clot or tissue can be fixed in formalin and processed as for histology.
Fig. 4 —Aspiration procedure
(a) needle positioned within target tissue (b) plunger pulled to apply negative pressure
(c) needle moved back and forth within target tissue (d) suction released while needle remains in
target tissue (e) needle withdrawn (f) needle detached (g) aspirate blown onto slide.
Collection and Preparation of Material for Cytodiagnosis
Preservation and processing of Smears
There are two fundamental methods of processing smears obtained by FNA. Smears are
prepared and fixed according to the requirements of the stain to be used.
1. Air-drying followed by hematological stains like May – Grunwald –Giemsa (MGG),
Diff Quik, Giemsa etc.: In this method, smears are intentionally air dried, but if smears
are not correctly made and dried quickly artifacts will result. One advantage is the
speed with which smears can be stained especially with use of rapid stains like Diff
Quik (2-3 minutes). Rapid stains are particularly useful in preliminary assessment of
adequacy of the sample before the patient is released. Colloid, mucin, endocrine
cytoplasmic granules etc are better brought out in air-dried preparations. It is also
useful in patients with hematological malignancies like lymphoma or leukemia.
2. Alcohol fixation followed by Papanicolaou (pap) or hematoxylin and eosin (H&E)
staining: Rapid fixation in alcohol (wet fixation) is essential for pap staining, which
brings out nuclear details clearly, allowing better identification of malignant cells. It
also allows better comparison with histology and hence is favored by majority of
pathologists. But if the smears are not quickly made and fixed, drying artifact can
occur in which case, the cytoplasm takes up more eosin (red color) and nuclear details
are less clear. A cellular sample can be unfit for diagnosis if there is significant drying.
Hence with pap staining, air-drying is avoided as much as possible especially by
dropping the slides into the fixative immediately after the smears are made. Poor
quality of preparation, fixation or staining can all make a cellular sample unsatisfactory
for evaluation. Hence great care must be taken in preparation and fixation of smears.
Manual for Cytology
Preparation and fixation for pap staining
Immediately after withdrawing, detach the needle, draw air into the syringe, reattach the
needle and express the material in the needle onto a slide. Needle tip is brought into light
contact with the slide and the aspirate is carefully expressed without spraying into the air,
which can cause air-drying and also can form aerosols, which are potentially infectious.
Preparing proper smears is critical for the end results. No matter how expertly the aspiration
is performed, if the slides are not interpretable, the procedure is totally worthless for cytologic
diagnosis. (Smearing technique is better demonstrated than described).
An ideal aspirate is of creamy consistency with numerous cells suspended in a small amount
of tissue fluid without admixture with blood. Such aspirates are smeared immediately using
another slide or cover slip or with the needle itself and dropped into the fixative.
At the beginning of the smearing process, while the material is still in a drop on the slide,
the surface area for evaporation is relatively small and hence a short delay will not cause
significant air-drying. Once the smear has been made, the surface areas are greatly increased
and the thickness of the smear is greatly diminished. Thus from the instant the smear is
made, air-drying proceeds extremely rapidly; hence the urgency for fixation.
Material diluted with blood can be spread like a peripheral smear, where particles tend to
come to the edge of the smear. Larger particles can be crushed gently by firm flat pressure.
Undue pressure can result in crush / smearing artifact. If can also be spread in a circular
motion with the needle itself, when particles and cells tend to distribute around the periphery
of the smear. In either case, smear should not go to the edges of the slides, where particles
can be lost over the edges. Outline of a perfect smear is completely contained on the slide
without going to any of the edges.
The cells must be delicately and thinly smeared with minimal distortion and fixed according
to the stain to be used. However, spreading the cells too thinly as well as preparing too
many smears is an error because of cellular distortion or dilution. Thus the smears must be
of adequate thickness. Obtaining optimal smear is a fine balance between too thick and too
thin smears (or fixation and crush artifacts) and comes with experience. If a large amount of
material is aspirated, multiple smears can be made, both air-dried and wet fixed which are
complementary to each other. Extra smears can be used for special stains or other
supplementary techniques. (While taking multiple smears, do not prepare all the smears
and then go back and fix them. Fix the smears as soon as they are made to avoid drying).
Smears can also be prepared indirectly by centrifugation, filtration etc. In lymph node
aspiration, a cell suspension can be prepared in addition to direct smears. Other systems
like “cell print” are now available for cell collection and preparation. In some centres, needles
Collection and Preparation of Material for Cytodiagnosis
and syringe rinse preparations are routinely done and smears prepared by centrifugation or
filtration. These types of indirect smears provide thin film of concentrated cells in a clear
background from samples of low / high cellularity. This is ideal for special stains and
Note:In guided FNA, once the needle is in the mass, the procedure and smear preparation
is similar to plain FNA, including the cutting motion with the needle as well as
preparation and fixation of smears.
Causes of unsatisfactory smears
Unsatisfactory smears can be due to non-representative / inadequate samples or due to poor
quality of preparation (thick smears, extreme admixture with blood, delayed fixation, over staining
etc). Attention to matters of technique regarding the procedure and preparation of smears will
considerably reduce the number of unsatisfactory smears received in a cytology lab.
Clinical correlation and final interpretation by the pathologist
Final diagnosis on FNA is based on clinical assessment prior to the aspiration procedure,
observations during the procedure as well as microscopic evaluation. Optimal diagnosis is
obtained when the same pathologist correlates the clinical features, performs the aspiration
and evaluates the smears. When this is not possible, close communication between clinician
and pathologist helps to maintain high quality of diagnosis and safeguards against errors.
Inaccurate, misleading, incomplete or absent clinical information can be important sources
of error. Clinical information is critical and is a part of FNA diagnosis as the morphological
features may vary with the site of FNA and have to be correlated with the site of aspiration
and other investigations for a meaningful diagnosis. Thus, systematic inclusion of clinical
and lab data should be considered as part of the procedure. The technique (aspirator),
morphological interpretation (pathologist) and clinical information (clinician) constitute a
diagnostic triad on which the FNA diagnosis rests.
It is preferable not to report on technically poor slides or give a definite diagnosis without
adequate clinical information and correlation. Clinical data serves as a safeguard in avoiding
Other Quality control Measures
In addition to details of technique (procedure, preparation, quality of materials used) and
clinical correlation; other routine quality control practices regarding specimen reception
(checking patient details, identification of slides, number of slides from each patient, labeling
the slides), preparation and maintenance of stains, staining procedure, mounting, record
keeping etc. are applicable to FNA also for optimal quality of diagnosis.
Manual for Cytology
Imprint Cytology Smears
This is indicated in the case of tumours especially of lymph nodes. Soon after an excision
biopsy of lymph node, the specimen is cut using a sharp scalpel blade. If there is blood
oozing from the outer surface, touch the surface with a cotton ball soaked in normal saline.
Then take imprint smears by touching the cut surface with a clean microslide and fix
Urine: For cytological evaluation of bladder, three morning samples of urine (each of
50 - 100 ml) obtained on consecutive days are recommended. Centrifuge the urine for
10 minutes and place one or two drops of sediment on a glass slide, spread the material
and fix immediately. Catheterised samples are also acceptable.
Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF): CSF and other fluids of small volume have considerable
bearing on diagnostic accuracy, the larger the sample the better the results. If several samples
are obtained the second or third should be used for cytology. The addition of an equal
amount of ethyl alcohol to the CSF is recommended if a delay in processing is anticipated.
Considering the low volume and cellularity, CSF specimen should be processed by
Cytocentrifugation: The fluid samples with low cell content such as CSF and urine are
centrifuged in Cytospin where the cells are sedimented directly on the microslides.
Other serous effusions are dealt with in a separate chapter.
Preservation of Fluid Specimens Prior to Processing
Preservation of cellular morphology until the sample can be processed is essential for
accurate cytologic interpretation. Specimens may be sent to the laboratory without
preservatives / prefixatives, if facilities for immediate processing are available. The duration
between collection and preparation of the sample before cellular damages occur depends
on pH, protein content, enzymatic activity and the presence or absence of bacteria. It is not
possible to predict these variables even in specimens from the same anatomic site. The
following guidelines are useful to get acceptable results.
a. Specimens with high mucus content such as sputum, bronchial aspirates,
mucocele fluid can be preserved for 12 to 24 hours if refrigerated. Refrigeration
slows down the bacterial growth, which causes cellular damage. Mucus apparently
coats the cells, protecting them against rapid degeneration. The cells in specimens
diluted with saliva are not as well protected and may deteriorate more rapidly.
Collection and Preparation of Material for Cytodiagnosis
b. Specimens with high protein content such as pleural, peritoneal or pericardial fluids
can be preserved for 24 to 48 hours with refrigeration. The protein-rich fluid in which
the cells are bathed acts as a tissue culture medium in preserving cellular morphology.
c. Specimens with low mucus or protein content such as urine or CSF will be
preserved for only 1-2 hours even if refrigerated. The fluid medium in which these
cells are bathed contains enzymatic agents capable of causing cell destruction.
Refrigeration may inhibit bacterial growth but does not protect the cells.
d. Specimens with low pH, such as gastric material, must be collected on ice and be
processed within minutes of collection to prevent cellular destruction by HCl.
Manual for Cytology
Cytopreparatory Techniques of Serous
The term serous effusion refers to the fluid accumulated in the three serous cavities namely
pleural, pericardial and peritoneal. It forms an important source of useful diagnostic
information in clinical practice. Certain benign processes like florid tuberculosis or rheumatoid
pleurisy can be recognized cytologically but the most important goal of effusion cytology is
the recognition of malignant cells. For an accurate cytologic diagnosis of serous effusions,
attention to proper technique is of paramount importance. The essential requirements are:
● Freshly tapped specimen
● Immediate processing
● Rapid fixation of slides
Collection and preservation
Pleural, pericardial and peritoneal fluids can be collected in tubes or syringes that may be
either plain or pre- heparinised, to prevent coagulation. Cells in heparinised fluids do not
deteriorate rapidly and there are some advantages in the processing of these fluids like
layering of many malignant cells in the buffy-coat of the centrifuged sample and better
adherence of the cells to the slides.
Freshly tapped specimens are preferred for cytology, if facilities for immediate processing
are available. If immediate processing is not possible, it can be preserved in the refrigerator
for a period of 24-48 hours. Preservation of cells by pre-fixation in 50% ethanol is also
possible. Pre-fixation and spray fixatives are recommended when sample has to be sent to
a distant laboratory. Albuminized slides should be used to prepare smears from prefixed
sample. 20–30 ml fluid is generally sufficient to get enough cells for cytological evaluation.
If the entire specimen tapped cannot be sent to the laboratory, a representative sample
from the bottom part of the fluid should be sent to the laboratory.
Gross Examination
When the specimen is received in the laboratory, the gross appearance and the amount
of fluid received are noted down. The fluid may be clear, transparent, straw coloured,
yellow, brown, red, chylous, purulent, mucoid or hemorrhagic. The appearance of the
fluid also helps in diagnosis.
Cytopreparatory Techniques of Serous Effusions
Routine processing
The fluid received is stirred briskly to disperse the suspended cells. A representative volume
of the fluid (10 -15 ml) is centrifuged at 2500 rpm for 5 minutes. If possible glass tube
should be avoided because of the disadvantages like tendency for cells to adhere to glass
and possible breakage. The centrifuge tube must be meticulously cleaned to ensure a
perfectly clean inner surface. If the quantity of fluid is too little for centrifugation, an equal
amount of normal saline can be added before centrifugation. If fibrin clot has already
formed, the clot may be smashed against the sides of the tube by using an applicator and
if large clot remains, may be processed as cellblock. Place one to two drops of the sediment
on the slide and allow it to spread evenly by placing another slide over it. Gently pull slides
apart with an easy sliding motion to get alternate thick and thin area.
Sparsely cellular Fluid
Clear, sparsely cellular fluids yield scanty or no sediment after centrifugation at
2000 rpm for ten minutes. Cytocentrifugation should be used for such cases. Cytocentrifuge
concentrates small number of cells suspended in fluid specimens. Spinning samples at
2000 rpm for 2 minutes sediments cells directly to slides. The blotter or filter card
simultaneously absorbs the fluid medium. The result is a mono layer of well preserved
cells with in an area of 6 mm. Major objection to the use of cytocentrifuge is the distortion
of cellular morphology due to air drying artifacts, which can be avoided by immediate
fixation or by using an equal volume of polyethylene glycol. The fluid is first concentrated
by routine centrifugation at 2000 rpm for 10 minutes. Large portion of the supernatant is
discarded leaving behind a few drops in the bottom of the centrifuge tube. This portion is
stirred well and 2-5 drops (optimum 3 drops) are used for cytocentrifugation.
Haemorrhagic Fluids
Carnoy’s fixative is used to lyse RBCs in haemorrhagic fluids. Alternatively glacial acetic
acid alone or saline re-hydration technique can be used in which the smears are rapidly
dried at 37oC for 5 minutes and re-hydrated in normal saline for 30 seconds and then
fixed in alcohol fixative.
Cell Block Preparation
There are different methods of cellblock preparation like bacterial agar method, plasma
thrombin clot method etc. An alternative method of cellblock preparation is a modified
technique using AAF fixative (95% ethyl alcohol 34 ml + formalin 4 ml +Glacial acetic
acid 2 ml).
Manual for Cytology
Technique of Cell Block Preparation
● The cell pellet remaining after preparing smears is mixed with thrice the volume of
AAF fixative and one or two drops of the supernatant fluid and centrifuged for 10
minutes at 2000 rpm.
● Re-suspend the cell button in AAF fixative and centrifuge for 10 minutes
at 3000 rpm
● Set aside the centrifuge tube for 4 — 6 hours
● Scrape out the cell button and wrap in lens paper and process in tissue processor.
Pap stain or MGG is recommended for routine diagnosis. Cell loss and cell crowding is
found to be very high in Pap method as compared to air-dried method. Cytoplasmic details
are well preserved in Giemsa than in Pap stain. Crisp chromatin granularity is preserved in
Pap stain, whereas, nuclear chromatin transparency is less in Giemsa, and thus the limitation
of one method can be counterbalanced in the other method.
Artifacts due to faulty techniques
● Delay in processing may lead to degenerating smear picture with loss of cell morphology
and plenty of bacteria in the smear background.
● Delay in fixation may lead to Air-drying artifacts - pale stained nuclei, lack of differential
cytoplasmic staining, cytoplasmic and nuclear eosinophilia.
● Contamination from other smears and cell from effusion smears to other slides should
be avoided. All the alcohol and xylene solutions should be filtered every day using
Whatman No.1 filter paper. The fixative should be filtered after each use.
Disposal of Effusion Samples
Proper care should be taken in handling the effusion samples. After preparing the smears a
disinfectant should be added to the sample bottle before it is discarded. Never discard the
excess sample into the sink.
Fixation of Cytology Specimens
Rapid fixation of smears is necessary to preserve cytologic details of cells spread on a
glass slide. Fixation means prevention of degeneration of cells and tissue by the autolytic
enzymes present in the cells and preservation of cells as close as possible to the living
state. To achieve this smears are placed in the fixative solutions for specific periods of time
before the staining procedure is started. Fixation changes the physical and chemical state
of the cells and determines the subsequent staining reactions that could be carried out on
the smears.
Properties of Cytologic Fixatives
● Do not excessively shrink or swell cells.
● Do not distort or dissolve cellular components.
● Inactivate enzymes and preserve nuclear details.
● Kill microbes.
● Improve optical differentiation and enhance staining
properties of the tissues and cell components.
Cytological Fixatives
Wet Fixation:
A. Routine Fixatives
The process of submerging of freshly prepared smears immediately in a liquid fixative is
called wet fixation. This is the ideal method for fixing all gynecological and non-gynecological
smears and any of the following alcohols can be used. All alcohol fixatives should be
discarded or filtered (Whatman No: I filter paper) after each use.
1. 95% Ethyl Alcohol (Ethanol): The ideal fixative recommended in most of the
laboratories for cytological specimen is 95% ethanol alone. It produces the
characteristic effect desired on nucleus. It is a dehydrating agent and causes cell
shrinkage as it replaces water. But it causes only the desired amount of cell contraction
to yield optimal chromatin detail characteristics of cytological preparations. Absolute
(100%) ethanol produces a similar effect on cells, but is much more expensive.
2. Ether alcohol mixture: This fixative was originally recommended by
Papanicolaou. It consists of equal parts of ether and 95% ethyl alcohol. It is an
excellent fixative, but ether is not used in most of the laboratories because of its
safety hazards, odour and hygroscopic nature.
Manual for Cytology
3. 100% Methanol: 100% methanol is an acceptable substitute for 95% ethanol.
Methanol produces less shrinkage than ethanol, but it is more expensive than ethanol.
4. 80% Propanol and Isopropanol: Propanol and Isopropanol cause slightly more
cell shrinkage than ether-ethanol or methanol. By using lower percentage of these
alcohols the shrinkage is balanced by the swelling effect of water on cells. Hence
80% propanol is a substitute for 95% ethanol.
5. Denatured alcohol: It is ethanol that has been changed by the addition of additives
in order to render it unsuitable for human consumption. There are many different
formulae for denatured alcohol; all of them contain ethanol as the main ingredient, and
hence this can be used at a concentration of 95% or 100%. One formula is 90 parts of
95% ethanol + 5 parts of 100% methanol + 5 parts of 100% isopropanol.
Time of Fixation: Minimum 15 minutes fixation prior to staining is essential. Prolonged
fixation for several days or even few weeks will not affect the morphology of cells. If smears
are to be preserved over a long period of time in alcohol, it is better to store them in capped
containers in the refrigerator.
B. Coating Fixative
Coating fixatives are substitutes for wet fixatives. They are either aerosols applied by spraying
the cellular samples or a liquid base, which is dropped onto the slide. They are composed
of an alcohol base, which fixes the cells and wax like substance, which forms a thin protective
coating over the cells e.g. Carbowax (Polyethylene Glycol) fixative. Diaphine fixative Spray
coating fixative (Hairspray) with high alcohol content and a minimum of lanolin or oil is also
an effective fixative.
Most of these agents have a dual action in that they fix the cells and, when dry, form a thin
protective coating over the smear. These fixatives have practical value in situations where
smears have to be mailed to a distant cytology laboratory for evaluation. This method is not
recommended for smears prepared from fluid within the laboratory as in any good method
of fixation the coating fixative should be applied immediately on fresh smears. The distance
from which the slides are sprayed with an aerosol fixative affects the cytology details.10 to
12 inches (25-30 cm) is the optimum distance recommended for aerosol fixative. Aerosol
sprays are not recommended for bloody smears, because they cause clumping of
erythrocytes. Waxes and oils from hair spray fixative alter staining reactions if they are not
adequately removed. Prior to staining, the slides have to be kept overnight in 95% alcohol
for removal of the coating fixative.
Fixation of Cytology Specimens
C. Special Purpose Fixative
● Carnoy’s fixative: This is a special purpose fixative for haemorrhagic samples. The
acetic acid in the fixative haemolyses the red blood cells. It is an excellent nuclear
fixative as well as preservative for glycogen but results in considerable shrinkage of
cells and tends to produce over staining in hematoxylin. Overfixing in Carnoy’s also
results in loss of chromatin material.
Carnoy’s fixative must be prepared fresh when needed and discarded after each use.
It loses its effectiveness on long standing, and chloroform can react with acetic acid to
form hydrochloric acid
● AAF Fixative: This is the ideal fixative used for cellblock preparation of fluid specimens
Mailing of unstained smears
Glycerine method for mailing slides: Smears are first fixed in 95% ethanol for 12
minutes and removed. Two drops of glycerine are placed on smears and covered with a
clean glass slide. This may be wrapped in wax paper and mailed to the laboratory in a
suitable container. Coating fixative such as carbowax fixative and spray coating fixative can
be used primarily to facilitate transport of smears, mailing etc.
Prefixation of cytologic material
Prefixation may preserve some specimens for days without deterioration of cells. Some of
the disadvantages of pre-fixation are precipitation/coagulation of proteins, hardening of
cells in spherical shapes and condensation of chromatin. The coagulation of proteins may
interfere with the adherence of cells to glass slides. It also ‘rounds up’ the cells - causes the
cells to gather together into tight clusters making stain absorption and interpretation difficult.
Albuminized slides should be used to prepare smears from prefixed sample. The most
common solutions used for this purpose are:
● Ethyl alcohol (50% solution)
● Sacomanno’s fixative (50% alcohol with 2% Carbovax 1540)
● Mucolexx (A commercial mucoliquifiing preservative for
the collection of mucoid and fluid specimens)
Many other preservatives have been developed for use with automated cytology
Rehydration of Air Dried Smears
Unfixed, air-dried gynaecological smears received from peripheral areas can be used for
Papanicolaou staining by rehydration method. The simplest rehydration technique is to place
air dried cytological specimens in 50% aqueous solution of glycerine for three minutes followed
by two rinses in 95% ethyl alcohol, and then stained by the routine Papanicolaou method.
Manual for Cytology
Staining Methods in Cytology
Papanicolaou Staining Method
Papanicolaou staining method is the routine staining procedure used in cytopathology
laboratory. This technique is named after Dr. George N. Papanicolaou, the father of exfoliative
cytology and is devised for the optimal visualization of cells exfoliated from epithelial surfaces
of the body. It is a polychrome staining reaction designed to display the many variations of
cellular morphology showing degree of cellular maturity and metabolic activity. The use of
the Papanicolaou stain results in well stained nuclear chromatin, differential cytoplasmic
counterstaining and cytoplasmic transparency.
Steps of staining procedure
The cytology smears are fixed in 95% ethyl alcohol or in other substitutes for a minimum
of 15 minutes.
b.Nuclear staining
It is done by using haematoxylin stain. Harris haematoxylin or its modified form is used
in Papanicolaou staining in regressive method, in which we deliberately over stain with
haematoxylin and remove the excess stain by using a differentiating solution such as
acid alcohol (0.05% HCl in 70% ethyl alcohol) or 0.05% aqueous solution of HCl alone.
As haematoxylin is used in an acid pH, a pink colour will form and it is not stable. In
order to make it stable, the compound is brought to alkaline pH (bluing) by treating with
a weak alkaline solution. Running tap water which is slightly alkaline (pH 8) is used as
bluing solution in small laboratories. Ammonium hydroxide solution (15 ml of ammonium
hydroxide 28-30% weight/volume to 985 ml of 70% ethanol) can also be used.
c.Cytoplasmic staining
Cytoplasmic stains are OG-6 and EA-36. Both are synthetic stains and OG-6 is a
monochrome stain while EA-36 is a polychrome stain.
Rinse the smears in absolute alcohol for two or three changes for the removal of water.
Smears left in rinses for long will lose too much stain. Alternative to 100% ethanol are
100% isopropanol and 100% denatured alcohol. Rectified spirit affects the cytoplasmic
staining and hence is not recommended.
Staining Methods in Cytology
Cells are not transparent while the smear is in the staining or alcohol solutions. During
clearing, alcohol is being replaced with Xylene, which is also miscible in mounting
medium. Xylene has a refractive index as that of glass and mounting medium and it
prevents cellular distortion.
f.Mounting of slide
The mounting media must be miscible with the clearing agent to prevent fading of the
stains. Practice is essential to achieve well-mounted slides, free of air bubbles and artifacts.
A minimum of mounting medium should be used. Too much mounting medium interferes
with microscopic detail, making the cell film appear hazy or milky when examined under
the high power objective. If the mounting medium and cover slip are applied too slowly, a
common artifact appears as a brown refractile pigment like substance on the surface of
the cell when xylene evaporates. If this artifact occurs, the slide must be soaked in xylene,
absolute alcohol and 95% alcohol, rinsed in running tap water and restained in OG and
EA. A possible means of preventing the “brown artifact” is to coverslip slide behind a
transparent chemical splash shield set at the front edge of the fume hood. The shield
diverts air around the local workspace and reduces the rate of xylene evaporation. The
usual size of the coverslip for a cervical smear is 22x30mm. If the smear spread is beyond
the coverslip area, ideally use another small coverslip or put a drop of DPX and spread
evenly with the same coverslip without affecting the focus.
1. Immediate fixation of smears is essential.
2. Smears should never be allowed to dry before placing the coverslip.
3. Haematoxylin is filtered everyday before use.
4. All solutions and other stains are filtered daily after use, to keep them free of sediment.
5. Avoid contamination from one smear to another.
6. Keep stains and solutions covered when not in use.
7. All dishes are washed daily.
8. Stains are discarded and replaced as the quality of the stain deteriorates.
9. Avoid contamination during placing of the coverslip, with the dropper used to dispense
the mounting medium.
10.Place the coverslip on the microslide slowly without trapping air bubbles.
Manual for Cytology
Maintenance of stains and solutions
Solutions may be used for longer period of time, if the slide carrier is rested on
several layers of tissue paper (paper toweling) for a few seconds before transferring
to the solutions.
Stains keep longer if they are stored in dark coloured, stoppered bottles.
Haematoxylin keeps relatively constant staining characteristics and do not require
frequent discarding if small amounts of fresh stain are added to replace stain loss
due to evaporation.
Use of coating or spray fixatives may cause contamination making frequent changes
OG and EA stains lose strength more rapidly than haematoxylin and should be
replaced each week or as soon as the cells appear without crisp staining colours.
Bluing solution and HCl should be replaced at least once daily.
Water rinses should be changed after each use.
Alcohol used for the process of dehydration prior to the cytoplasmic stains may be
replaced weekly. The alcohol rinses following the cytoplasmic stains are usually
changed on a rotating basis after each use. The alcohol rinse immediately following
the stain is discarded and the other two rinses are moved to the first and second
position and fresh unused alcohol is replaced in the third position. Ideally this rotation
must continue after each staining run. The absolute alcohols should be changed
weekly and can be kept water free by adding silica gel pellets.
Xylene should be changed as soon as it becomes tinted with any of the cytoplasmic
stains. Xylene becomes slightly milky if water is present in it and if so the clearing
process may be disturbed. Tiny drops of water may be seen microscopically on a
plane above the cell on a slide. Addition of silica gel pellets to the absolute alcohol
will minimize water contamination of xylene.
Agitation of the slides by occasional dipping is necessary to remove excess dye.
Dipping should be done gently to avoid cell loss and the slide carrier should not hit
the bottom of the staining dish.
The quality of the stained slide is dependent on timing, solubility and percentage of
dye concentration.
Staining Methods in Cytology
Papanicolaou Staining Procedure
1. 90% Ethanol (fixation) - 15 minutes(mt)
2. 80% Ethanol - 2 mt.
3. 60% Ethanol - 2 mt.
4. Distilled water - 5 dips
5. Distilled water - 5 dips
6. Haematoxylin stain - 2 mt.
7. 0.05% HCl solution - 2 mt.
8. Running tap water (Bluing) - 10 mt.
9. 60 % Ethanol - 2 mt.
10. 80% Ethanol - 2 mt.
11. 80% Ethanol - 2 mt.
12. 95% Ethanol - 2 mt.
13. OG-6 stain - 2 mt.
14. 95% Etanol - 2 mt.
15. 95% Ethanol - 2 mt.
16. 95% Ethanol - 2 mt.
17. EA-36 Stain - 2 mt.
18. 95% Ethanol - 2 mt.
19. 95% Ethanol - 2 mt.
20. 95%Etanol - 2 mt.
21. 95% Ethanol - 2 mt.
22. Absolute Ethanol - 2mt.
23. Absolute Ethanol - 2 mt.
24. Absolute Ethanol - 2 mt.
25. Absolute Ethanol+ Xylene (1:1) - 2mt.
26. Xylene - 5 mt.
27. Xylene - 5 mt.
28. Xylene - till clear
29. Mounting in D.P.X
Manual for Cytology
Rapid Papanicolaou Staining
The purpose is to save staining time and money by combining OG and EA and reducing the
number of rinses. This procedure needs to be done only for emergency situations and not
for routine use.
Contamination Control
All stains, Haematoxylin, OG-6 and EA-36 should be filtered at least once daily and after
staining any slides containing known cancer cells. The alcohols used for rehydration,
dehydration, absolute alcohols and xylene must be filtered or replaced daily. Gynaecological
and non-gynaecological materials may be stained separately. Specimens notorious for
shedding cells like sputum and specimens suspected to have large number of cancer cells
should be stained at the end of the day using separate rack. Even with all these precautions,
gross contaminations may occur and if this happens with malignant cells all solutions and
stains must be immediately filtered or discarded.
Haematoxylin and Eosin (H&E) staining method
Some laboratories use routine H&E stain for non-gynecological smears. The benefits of
using Papanicolaou stains are clear definition of nuclear details and differential counter
staining giving cytoplasmic transparency. H&E stain does not satisfy these criteria and
hence unacceptable for cervical smears.
May-Grunwald-Giemsa (MGG) Staining method
Many laboratories use MGG (Romanowski type stain) staining method for cytological
diagnosis of non –gynaecological specimens in addition to Pap and H&E stains. Combination
of all these stains increases the efficiency of microscopical interpretations. MGG stain is
performed in air –dried aspirates or fluids.
Stock solutions of May-Grunwald Reagent and Giemsa Stain are available commercially.
Staining procedure
1 May-Grunwald solution - 5 mt.
2. Running water - 1 mt.
3. Geimsa solution - 15 mt.
4. Running water - 1 - 2 mt.
5. Air-dry (No mounting necessary)
Staining Methods in Cytology
Labeling of slides
After the slides have been cleaned, they are ready for labeling. Place a small square label
on the edge of the slide on the same side as the cover slip. Use water proof ink and record
the institution, the number, the year, the nature of specimen etc. on it.
Filing the slides
The slides must be protected from breakage, light, moisture and dust. After microscopical
interpretation, the slides must be filed in slide filing cabinets in serial order, in numbered
slots. They are kept for a minimum of 5 years and are retrieved when necessary.
Manual for Cytology
Organisation of Cytopathology Laboratory
The organization of a smoothly functioning cytopathology laboratory requires knowledge
of community needs, available professional and man power support, financial limitations,
physical service facilities, and record keeping systems.
Laboratory Personnel
The personnel needs of a laboratory depends on overall work load and the different types
of cytology materials to be processed.
The Chief of the Laboratory
He / she should be a cytopathologist / pathologist or a gynecologist / medical officer trained
in cancer related cytology.
Screening of smears should be performed by well trained and certified cytotechnologists.The
IAC recommendation is that cytotechnologist should have undergone one year cytology
training from a recognized, accredited centre or should have passed National Examination
for cytotechnologists conducted by IAC, after graduation/post-graduation in any of the life
science subjects. There are very few institutions in India accredited for conducting training
in cytology.
The duties of the cytotechnologist include supervision of cytopreparation, preparation of stains
and maintenance of its quality, screening of smears and formulation of preliminary diagnosis,
and formulation of final diagnosis in certain well defined circumstances. They are also
responsible for supervising the record keeping, analysis of data and slide filing system.
Cytotechnicians will have a diploma in medical laboratory technology from a recognized
institution who have also undergone 6 months training course for cytotechnician from an
accredited laboratory or passed the National Examination for cytotechnicians conducted
by IAC. They are employed in the support segment of the laboratory operation viz specimen
collection, preparation and staining areas. They perform highly skilled repetitive procedures
and can be involved in the preliminary screening of cytology samples received from the
population based cancer control programmes. All such procedures are under direct
supervision of cytotechnologist. After 5 years of experience in a good cytology laboratory
Appendix: Organisation of Cytopathology Laboratory
with facilities for continuing education programmes, they are eligible to write the National
Examination for cytotechnologist or to join for the one year cytotechnologist training course.
Support Staff
Clerical and secretarial work in the laboratory may be performed by specialized support
personnel or in small multipurpose laboratories by technical personnel. It is better to avoid
utilization of technical staff for clerical jobs compromising their time on technical work.
Appointment of well-trained clerical personnel is preferred.
Physical Infrastructure
The laboratory must be well designed and conveniently located to enable the professional
and support personnel to perform their duties effectively. It must contain four definitely
separated areas:
● Reception.
● Specimen collection room.
● Processing and staining area.
● Reporting room.
The area of the laboratory may be preferably 20ft. x 12ft. The work bench with 2.5 feet width
and 3 feet height from the floor may be at two adjacent sides of the laboratory at the side
where there is enough ventilation. The bottom of the work bench can be made as cupboards
with one or two racks for storage of materials. The reagent shelf with size of 3 feet height
and ¾ feet width may be fitted over the workbench. Laboratory sink must be fitted at one
end of the work bench. Four Power plugs, 2 with a capacity of 15 amps and the other two
with a capacity of 5 amps must be made available at the other end of the work bench.
It must be well ventilated and must have a powerful exhaust fan. The chemicals and volatile
substances used in the specimen processing area must be stored in separate rooms adjacent
to the laboratory. The laboratory should have separate space for specimen collection, smear
preparation, staining and screening purposes. Screening areas should be well lighted and
ventilated. Distracting noise of nearby traffic or equipment should be minimized. Cytoscreener
should have sufficient space and comfortable seating arrangement to permit easy
performance of microscopic examination.
Clerical and record keeping system should be located near the screening area for rapid
retrieval of data. Health and fire regulations of the state and local authorities must be observed
for the personal safety of laboratory personnel.
Manual for Cytology
The following criteria are to be applied while planning a cytology
● Provision for getting all relevant clinical information.
● Collection of specimens, preparation of smears, proper fixation and staining.
● Provision for complete screening of all specimens.
● Reporting of specimens, enabling clinical management of patient.
● Provision for quality control and laboratory safety measures.
Receiving of specimens
Identification and absolute specimen integrity are to be maintained throughout the entire
processing and reporting of all cytology samples. The following protocols are followed during
specimen reception:
Ensure that the specimen is properly labelled and submitted along with the
specific requisition form.
Match all slides with the requisition form.
Check names and verify mismatches, if any, and report it to the referring
hospital / doctor.
Verify patient’s history including Last Menstrual period, Last Child Birth along
with previous Cytology / Histopathology reports, if any.
It is mandatory to specify the site from where the specimen has been collected
in order to avoid confusion between a non-gynecological specimen and a
cervical smear.
The number of slides received from each site should be mentioned in the
requisition form.
Nature and method of sample collection are to be mentioned in the requisition
form. (Cytobrush / Spatula / Swab / for gynaecalogical smears and plain/
guided FNAC for aspiration smears)
Check whether the fixation is proper. (Type of fixation: alcohol /
spray fixative / prefixed / air dried)
Separate registers may be maintained for gynaecological, non gynaecological
and sputum (if not computerized.)
Enter patients name, age, sex, address, brief clinical details, and name of
referring hospital / doctor in the register.
Appendix: Organisation of Cytopathology Laboratory
A unique sequential accession number that will be preceded by the last two
digits of the current year should identify each specimen.
Mention date and time of receipt of specimen.
Address to which report is to be dispatched should be mentioned in the
requisition form.
Guidelines to be followed for laboratory safety
● Laboratory request forms accompanying specimen should not
remain wrapped around the specimen container.
● Prepare specimens in a room or area away from other work place.
● It is ideal to process all specimens under a laminar flow hood.
● The technical person must wear disposable gloves, gowns,
aprons, face paper etc.
● Inspect centrifuge tubes for cracks.
● Never pipette samples with mouth.
● Keep hands away from mouth, nose, eye and face
during specimen processing.
● Discard needles into a needle disposal container and
residual fluids into autoclavable, splash proof container.
● Before disposing, contaminated utensils must be autoclaved.
● Areas where infectious materials are handled may be disinfected.
● Keep a properly functioning fire-fighting system in the laboratory.
● Avoid eatables in the working area.
● Skilled professional should carry out maintenance / servicing
of all equipments including microscope at regular intervals.
Record keeping and follow up
Record keeping is very important to enable proper data retrieval for various purposes
A system for proper maintenance of registers or use of computer for maintaining data is
advisable. Smears must be preserved for 3-5 years, in year wise accession number after
reporting. This is important as a quality control measure and also for follow-up.
Minimum Requirements for Setting up a Small
Cytology Laboratory
● Reception
● Laboratory (20 ft x 12 ft)
● Examination Room (10 ft x 10 ft)
● Reporting /Office Room (10 ft x10 ft)
● Toilet. (Separate for males and females)
Furniture Number
Work bench with reagent rack with cupboards & 1
drawers on both ends (8 ft x 4 ft height-2.5ft)
Small Table (4ft x3ft) 1
Office table 1
Revolving Chair 1
Plastic Chair 3
Plastic Stool 2
Laboratory Equipments Number
Microscope (Binocular) 1
Centrifuge (4 tubes capacity) 1
Chemical Balance 1
Refrigerator 1
Stainless Steel Electrical Sterilizer 1
Distilled Water Unit 1
Slide Filing Cabinet (10,000 Capacity) 1
Speculum Cuscos: Large 2
Medium 6
Small 2
Bivalve Vaginal Speculum Sims; Medium 2
Kidney Tray (Stainless Steel) 2
Metal Tray (Stainless Steel ) 2
Punch holding forceps (Stainless Steel ) 1
Forceps (Stainless Steel ) 2
Gynecological couch (With step and focusing lamp) 1
Slide Tray (MetallicTray,20 slides capacity) 5
Electric Heater (Hot coil) 1
Manual for Cytology
Chemicals Quantity
Haematoxylin powder 25gms
OG 6 Certified 25gms
Eosin Yellow Water soluble Certified 25gms
Light Green SF (Yellowish) Certified 25gms
Phloxine B Certified 25gms
Phosphotungstic acid pure 100gms
Aluminium Ammonium Sulphate AR 2x500gms
Sodium Iodate (Extra pure) 100gms
Xylene Extra pure 4x2.5lit
DPX Mountant 500ml
HCl 500ml
Isopropyl Alcohol 10x2.5lit
Consumables Number
Ayre’s Spatula (Wooden) 500
Disposable tongue depressor 100
Disposable syringe 10ml 250
Disposable needle 22 G 250
Gloves (Disposable) 100
Koplin jar (Plastic) 30
Glass Staining jar with lid (20 slides carrier) 30
Slide carrier (20 slides capacity Stain less steel) 5
Bottle brush 2
Microslides 25 boxes
Micro cover glass ( 22mm x 30mm ) 20x10gm
Slide Boxes (Plastic 100 slides) 3
Rubber Sheet (For gynaec couch) 1
Diamond glass marking pencil 3
Filter paper Whatmann No 1 5 sheets
Blotting paper 50 sheets
Appendix: Minimum Requirements for Setting up a Small Cytology Laboratory
Chemicals Quantity
Glass Wares Number
Centrifuge tube 1 dozen
Test tube 3 dozen
Conical flask 250ml 1
Conical flask 500ml 1
Beaker 500ml 1
Round bottom flask 1000ml 1
Measuring Cylinder 500ml 1
Measuring cylinder 100ml 1
Pipette 10ml 1
Funnel (Medium size) 2
Manual for Cytology
Compiled and edited by
Dr. Cherian Varghese
National Professional Officer
(Non-communicable diseases and Mental Health)
Office of the WHO Representative to India
New Delhi
Dr. Kavita Venkataraman
National Consultant (NMH)
Office of the WHO Representative to India
New Delhi
Dr. Sadhana Bhagwat
National Consultant (Cancer)
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
New Delhi
Dr. Elizabeth K. Abraham M.D
Professor and Head, Divisionof Pathology,
Regional Cancer Centre, Trivandrum.
Dr. K. Raveendran Pillai Ph.D
Associate Professor in Cytopathology, Department of Pathology,
Regional Cancer Centre, Trivandrum.
Dr. K. S. Mani M.Sc.
Cytopathologist, Division of Pathology,
Regional Cancer Centre, Trivandrum
Mr. K.S.Jayalal, M.Sc.
Cytopathologist, Division of Pathology,
Regional Cancer Centre, Trivandrum
The material in this publication does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part
of the World Health Organization concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of
its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The mention of specific
companies or of certain manufacturers’ products does not imply that they are endorsed or
recommended by the World Health Organization in preference to others of a similar nature that are
not mentioned. The responsibility for the interpretation and use of the material lies with the reader.
Manual of Cytology for Laboratory Technicians
Further Reading
1. Leopold G. Koss, Diagnostic Cytology and its Histologic Bases, Volume I&II, Third Edition,
Philadelphia, JB Lippincott, 1979.
2. George L. Wied, Catherine M. Keebler, Koss L.G, Regan JW, Compendium on Diagnostic
Cytology, Eighth Edition, Tutorials of Cytology. Chicago, Illinois, USA, 1997.
3. Richard M..DeMay : The Art and Science of Cytopathology: Exfoliative Cytology, Volume
I, ASCP Press, American Society of Clinical Pathologists, Chicago, 1996.
4. Richard M. DeMay: The Art and Science of Cytopathology: Aspiration Cytology, Volume
II, ASCP Press, American Society of Clinical Pathologists, Chicago, 1996.
5. Svantle R. Orell, Gregory F. Sterrett,Max N-I. Walters:Maual and Atlas of Fine Needle
Aspiration Cytology,Second edition, Churchchill Livingstone, Edinburg, London, Madrid,
Melbourne, New York and Tokio,1992
6. Claude Gompel: Atlas of Diagnostic Cytology, A wiley Medical Publication, John Wiley &
Sons., New York, Chichester, Brisbane, Toronto, 1978.
7. Erica G. Watchel: Exfoliative Cytology in Gynaecological Practice: Butterworth & Co
(Publishers), 1964.
8. Catherine M. Keebler, James W. Reagan, Fourth edition, Tutorials of Cytology. Chicago,
Illinois, 1976.
9. Stanley Lawrence Lamberg, Robert Robert Rothistein: Laboratory Manual of Histology
and Cytology, AVI Publishing Company, INC Westport, Connecticut, 1978.
10.Diane Solomon, Ritu Nayar: The Bethesda System for Reporting Cervical Cytology;
Definitions, Criteria, and Explanatory notes, Second edition, Springer, New York, 2003.
References / Suggested Reading