Cytopathology (from Greek κύτος, kytos, “a hollow”; πάθος, pathos, “fate, harm”; and -λογία, -logia) is a branch of pathology that studies and diagnoses diseases on the cellular level. The discipline was founded by George Nicolas Papanicolaou in 1928. Cytopathology is generally used on samples of free cells or tissue fragments, in contrast to histopathology, which studies whole tissues.
Cytopathology is commonly used to investigate diseases involving a wide range of body sites, often to aid in the diagnosis of cancer, but also in the diagnosis of some infectious diseases and other inflammatory conditions. For example, a common application of cytopathology is the Pap smear, a screening tool used to detect precancerous cervical lesions which may lead to cervical cancer.
Cytopathologic tests are sometimes called smear tests because the samples may be smeared across a glass microscope slide for subsequent staining and microscopic examination. However, cytology samples may be prepared in other ways, including cytocentrifugation. Different types of smear tests may also be used for cancer diagnosis. In this sense, it is termed a cytologic smear.[