What is cytology?

Human cell types, all studied by cytologists.

Cytology, more commonly known as cell biology, studies cell structure, cell composition, and the interaction of cells with other cells and the wider environment in which they exist. The term “cytology” can also refer to cytopathology, which analyzes cell structure to diagnose disease. Microscopic and molecular studies of cells can focus on multicellular or unicellular organisms.

A Pap smear is routinely performed during a woman’s annual gynecological exam.

The fact that we, as humans, are made up of millions of tiny cells, and that other life forms around us are similarly built, now hardly needs explanation. The cell concept is relatively new, however. The scientific community did not accept the idea of ​​the existence of cells until the end of the 18th century.

Recognizing the similarities and differences of cells is of utmost importance in cytology. Microscopic examination can help identify different types of cells. Looking at the molecules that make up a cell, sometimes called molecular biology, helps in further description and identification. All fields of biology depend on understanding cell structure. The field of genetics exists because we understand the structure and components of cells.

Urinalysis tests are performed to look for cytopathology.

Another important aspect in the cytology discipline is the examination of cellular interaction. By studying how cells relate to other cells or the environment, cytologists can predict problems or examine environmental hazards to cells, such as toxic or carcinogenic substances. In humans and other multicellular structures, cytology can examine the presence of too many of a cell type or the lack of enough of a particular cell type. In a simple test, such as a complete blood count, a lab can look at white blood cells and identify the presence of an infection, or it can look at a low level of certain types of red blood cells and diagnose anemia.

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Microscopic and molecular studies of cells can focus on multicellular or unicellular organisms.

Certain autoimmune disorders can be diagnosed by abnormal cellular reactions. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, for example, is an autoimmune disease caused by an abnormal cellular reaction. Instead of white blood cells recognizing the presence of normal thyroid cells, these antibodies attack them, causing low thyroid. If left untreated, this condition can result in retardation, extreme fatigue, obesity, and ultimately death. Through cytology, abnormal reactions of these antibodies can be recognized and treatment can be carried out long before this condition creates irreversible problems.

If left untreated, some autoimmune diseases can contribute to obesity, fatigue, and lethargy.

Cytopathology has similar goals, but tends to look for cells that should not be present in an organism. Urinalysis and blood tests, for example, can check for the presence of parasites or bacteria that can cause illness and death. Therefore, in cytology, understanding unicellular organisms such as many forms of bacteria is as important as understanding multicellular structures.

This is also one of the main diagnostic tools for detecting cancer. A woman’s annual gynecological exam almost always involves a Pap smear, a collection of tissues that are analyzed for cellular structure to detect early formations of cancer cells. Early detection can lead to higher survival rates. Likewise, needle biopsies of lumps in the breast or elsewhere can detect cancer cells and provide an excellent means of diagnosis.

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