What is Cytotechnology?

Cytotechnology is the study of human cells under a microscope in order to detect the early signs of cancer and other diseases. It is a specialized health care field that requires a baccalaureate degree from an accredited program like the one offered at the University of Kansas.

students listen to instructor discuss slide on video screen

Working under the direction of a pathologist, the cytotechnologist evaluates cellular material from sites all over the body. A primary responsibility of these professionals is the recognition of normal and abnormal cells under a microscope including the identification of malignant neoplasms (cancer), precancerous lesions and infectious agents. They possess the technical skills for a wide variety of laboratory specimen preparations and knowledge of contemporary procedures such as image analysis, flow cytometry, immunocytochemistry, electron microscopy and molecular diagnostic procedures.

Cytotechnology is a very demanding field. The role of the modern cytotechnologist extends beyond the detection of cancer and includes such issues as quality improvement, laboratory management, teaching, research, and patient education. Cytotechnologists throughout the country maintain a high standard of practice and work in laboratories, in hospitals, and in private industry. The starting salary varies depending on location but currently recent graduates earn an average of nearly $50,000 per year at their first job.

male student works at microscopeLicense and Registry Exam
Requirements for cytotechnologists vary by state, so please check with the licensing organization for the location in which you wish to work for specific license details. All cytotechnologists, regardless of location, must become certified with ASCP by passing the registry exam in order to work in the field. The CT(ASCP) Cytotechnologist is the licensing credential most desirable to cytotechnologists because it provides for the most opportunity for employment and advancement in the field. To be eligible for this examination category, an applicant must obtain a bachelor's degree or higher from a regionally accredited college/university and successfully complete a 12-month CAAHEP-accredited cytotechnology program within the last 5 years.

Last modified: Jan 08, 2013

Careers in Cytotechnology

Learn about the profession and employment opportunities in the Occupational Outlook Handbook (U.S. Dept of Labor)


A neat online interactive atlas of microscopic slide specimens, this site will give you a glimpse into the world of cytopathology.

See Also:

American Society of Cytopathology

American Society for Cytotechnologists

America Society
for Clinical Pathology

Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs