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Program Description

Just the Facts

Cytotechnology/Cytotechnologist. A program that prepares individuals to work with pathologists to detect changes in body cells that may indicate, and permit diagnosis of, the early development of cancers and other diseases. Includes instruction in biochemistry, microbiology, applied mathematics, microscopy, slide preparation, identification of cellular structures and abnormalities, and laboratory procedures and safety.

This program is available in these options:

  • Certificate / Diploma
  • Associate degree
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Graduate Certificate
  • Master's degree

High School Courses

See the high school courses recommended for programs in this career cluster:

See the high school courses recommended for programs in this pathway:

Additional Information

Students in cytotechnology programs try to solve cellular mysteries. They learn to use their technically trained minds and eyes to single out malignant or pre-malignant cancer cells.

To become a cytotechnologist in the U.S., you need either a four-year bachelor's degree in cytology (cell biology), or a bachelor's degree in a related field (like biology) plus a one-year cytology certificate. You must also pass a state exam to become a certified cytotechnologist.

Because cytotechnology involves detecting tiny changes in cells, students must pay close attention to detail.

"Cytotechnologists are looking at microscopic changes in cells," says Mary Ann Weller, director of the medical laboratory sciences program at Oakland University in Michigan. "They must be able to distinguish subtle characteristics."

Weller's program is four years long -- three at university, and one full year of internship.

"However, internship positions are not guaranteed as part of the university degree -- the students must compete for them," Weller says.

High school students can begin preparing for this career by paying attention in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, computer science and English classes.

"At the high school level, we can expect more general biology courses and standard chemistry courses to be available," says Eric Thompson, advisor and director of the University of North Dakota's cytotechnology program. "But these are good bases for taking college-level bioscience courses in hematology, physiology, anatomy, histology and cell biology."

Students should also know how to write. "Writing skills are so important in communication -- spelling, grammar," Weller emphasizes. "Health-care workers need to communicate precisely."

Volunteer positions could include taking care of the sick or elderly. "Hopefully, the experience would teach them how vital quality health care is and how important their job will be," Weller says.

Generally, textbooks and equipment for any health-related education are expensive. Specialized books tend to be more expensive, but they will double as reference books in years to come.


Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

American Society of Cytopathology
Find out about education options and other resources

An international journal and resource linking cytotechnologists around the world