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Cytotechnologists primarily examine prepared slides of body cells by viewing them through a microscope. In any single slide there may be more than 100,000 cells so it is important that cytotechnologists be patient, thorough, and accurate when performing their job. They are required to study the slides and examine cell growth patterns, looking for abnormal patterns or changes in a cell's color, shape, or size that might indicate the presence of disease. In addition to analyzing Pap smears, cytotechnologists interpret specimens taken from the lung, breast, central nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, bladder, body cavities, liver, lymph nodes, thyroid, and salivary glands.
While most cytotechnologists spend the majority of their workday in the laboratory, some might assist doctors at patients' bedsides collecting cell samples from the respiratory and urinary systems, as well as the gastrointestinal tract. They might also assist physicians with bronchoscopes and with needle aspirations, a process that uses very fine needles to suction cells from many locations within the body. Once the cells are collected, cytotechnologists may prepare the slides for microscope examination. In some laboratories, cell preparation is done by medical technicians known as cytotechnicians.
Cytotechnologists are often responsible for keeping records and filing reports. Although they usually work independently in the lab, they often share lab space and must consult with coworkers, supervisors, and pathologists regarding their findings. Most cytotechnologists work for private firms that are hired by physicians to evaluate medical tests, but they may also work for hospitals or university research institutions.