Cytotechnology is probably not a word that rolls off the lips of students contemplating a career in health care. But it may be one of the most rewarding because of its potentially life-saving capabilities. Just what is cytotechnology?

It is literally the study of cells under a microscope to detect cancer and other abnormalities. The study of cells is known as cytology or the branch of science dealing with a cell’s structure, function and chemistry. This work is performed in a laboratory, whereupon a computer may perform an initial evaluation, indicating slides that are sufficiently normal that no human reading is needed, or pointing out areas that may be of particular interest for later examination. In many laboratories, cytotechnologists perform the initial evaluation as well as a secondary evaluation to determine whether a specimen is normal, atypical, or a malignant cell. Abnormal specimens are typically referred to a pathologist for final interpretation or further medical diagnosis. In the diagnosis of cancerous cells, these laboratory technicians could be the primary means of detection.

Automation has been one of the most significant changes in cytotechnology practice. Automation in cytopreparation and computer-assisted screening has contributed to an increase in the number of abnormal cases detected as compared to conventional practice and methods. Other benefits to automation include increased productivity, consistency and decreased turn-around time.


According to the American Society of Cytopathology, cytotechnology training programs are offered at the baccalaureate and post-baccalaureate (certificate) levels and are located in both university and hospital/laboratory settings.  Students may be admitted to a cytotechnology program in their junior or senior year of college or after they have completed their undergraduate studies.  Specific course requirements vary somewhat among schools; however, 28 credit hours of sciences including chemistry and the biological sciences upon completion of a cytotechnology program and three of mathematics, statistics or equivalent are recommended.

The Mayo Foundation has a cytotechnology certificate program in Minnesota, where they too require 28 credits in biology/chemistry before applying. Their program is twelve months in length and it prepares the student for an entry-level job. This particular program teaches the students to evaluate gynecological and non-gynecological material with sufficient competence to render a preliminary diagnosis.

The recommended route for a career in this field is to earn a bachelor’s degree. Typical courses at this level involve:

  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Embryology
  • Endocrinology
  • Immunology
  • Physiology
  • Histology
  • Microbiology with Laboratory

As of 2014, there were 30 active training programs approved by the Accreditation of Educational Programs in Cytotechnology.


The majority of cytotechnologists are employed in hospitals or clinics with laboratory facilities. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2012 that the median annual salary was $47,820 with a projected growth/change rate of 22% or 70,600 jobs through 2022. This salary is lower than the median salary of $64,440 currently reported by the site salary.com. This site states the lowest 10% are paid $53,426 and the highest 10% earn $76,245.


Judging from the job change statistics above, this occupation will experience much growth over the next eight years. There are a total of 325,800 laboratory technicians employed in the United States as of 2012, according to the BLS. For those students with an inclination for the sciences of biology and chemistry, in particular, this is a career that merits consideration.