A sputum cytology test can identify cancer cells in a sample of sputum coughed up from the lungs.
This test is done when a healthcare professional suspects that a person may have lung cancer.
This test is usually performed in the morning, immediately after waking up. The person is asked to rinse his or her mouth with water to prevent the sample from being heavily contaminated with saliva.
After taking several deep breaths, the person then coughs deeply. This should bring up enough of a material from deep in the lungs known as sputum. Sputum is different from saliva (spit). The sputum sample is then taken to a laboratory where it is examined with a microscope.
The healthcare professional provides instructions on sample collection to the individual having this test. Normally, no special preparation is needed.
Usually, sputum contains some normal cells. No cells that look like cancer should be in the sample. If cancer cells are seen, the person usually has lung cancer. The healthcare professional can then confirm the cancer and determine its stage using other tests.