Urine Cytology

By Metcalf, Eric 
March 22, 2017

Urine Cytology

Does this test have other names?

Urine examination with microscope

What is this test?

This test looks at a sample of your urine to see if it contains abnormal cells.

The test is used to diagnose cancers of the urinary tract. These include cancers of the kidney, bladder, ureter, and urethra, the tube through which urine leaves the bladder when you urinate.

A specially trained healthcare provider called a pathologist looks at the cells from your urine sample under a microscope. Cancer cells sometimes have a distinct appearance. In most cases, cells that look like cancer are a sign that you have cancer somewhere in your urinary tract.

This test can also find inflammation or viral infections in the urinary tract. It can give more information on your condition if you have bladder pain syndrome (interstitial cystitis).

Why do I need this test?

You may have this test to check for problems in your urinary tract, such as bladder cancer. Symptoms of bladder cancer include:

  • Blood in your urine

  • Pain in your lower back or around the genital area

  • Painful urination

  • Urgent or frequent need to urinate

Possible symptoms of kidney cancer also include blood in your urine and lower back pain, as well as belly (abdominal) pain, weight loss, and tiredness.

If you have bladder pain syndrome, this test can also give your healthcare provider more information on your condition. Symptoms of bladder pain syndrome include:

  • Bladder pressure

  • Pelvic pain or discomfort often linked to bladder filling, not because of any other health problem

What other tests might I have along with this test?

Your healthcare provider may also order other tests to diagnose problems in your urinary tract. These may include:

  • Urinalysis to check your urine for red blood cells, white blood cells, and sugar

  • Imaging tests, including X-rays and CT scans of your urinary tract

  • Cystoscopy, in which your provider puts a very narrow tube with a camera in it through your urethra to look at the lining of your bladder and urethra

What do my test results mean?

Many things may affect your lab test results. These include the method each lab uses to do the test. Even if your test results are different from the normal value, you may not have a problem. To learn what the results mean for you, talk with your healthcare provider.

Normal results are negative, meaning that no abnormal cells were found.

A positive result means that abnormal cells were found and that you may have a problem in your urinary tract. 

How is this test done?

This test requires a urine sample. Your healthcare provider will tell you how to collect a urine sample.

Does this test pose any risks?

This test poses no known risks.

What might affect my test results?

Other factors aren't likely to affect your results.

How do I get ready for this test?

You don't need to prepare for this test. Be sure your healthcare provider knows about all medicines, herbs, vitamins, and supplements you are taking. This includes medicines that don't need a prescription and any illicit drugs you may use.  


March 22, 2017


Basic Examination of Urine. McPherson Richard A., Ben-Ezra Jonathan. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. Chap. 28. 2012, 22nd ed., p. 446–448., Kidney Cancer. Torpy JM. JAMA. 2011;306(2).

Reviewed By:  

Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN,Walton-Ziegler, Olivia, MS, PA-C