The Division of Cytopathology


As one of the premier cytopathology laboratories in the country, Hopkins Cytopathology plays a prominent role in the rapid, accurate diagnosis of the early stages of neoplastic lesions and infections and monitors disease recurrences.

Requests are welcomed from physicians seeking primary diagnoses, second opinions or more advanced services than they can provide, and from patients who self-refer for a rapid diagnosis or a second opinion. In addition to reviewing submitted slides and samples, our faculty pathologists can also extract cellular samples from patients who come to our clinic.


The Johns Hopkins Cytopathology Laboratory was one of the earliest cytopathology laboratories in the United States, established in 1956 by Dr. John K. Frost, a pioneer in the field. We have extensive experience serving practitioners throughout the United States, solving diagnostic dilemmas and providing second opinions. Gill's Hematoxylin, a widely used formula for staining the nuclei of cells for both cytopathology and histopathology specimens, was developed in the Hopkins Cytopathology Laboratory in the 1970s. Many other laboratory techniques developed here are described in literature accompanying various products and equipment, and in training films of the American Society of Cytopathology and The American Cancer Society. Today, the laboratory is directed by Syed Z. Ali, M.D..


Expert Consultation
Faculty who direct the laboratory are recognized experts in gynecologic, urologic, thyroid, pulmonary and pancreatic cytopathology, AIDS, and infectious disease pathology -- among other areas.

The majority of our cytotechnologists and cytopreparatory technicians who prepare specimens and review slides have at least 20 years experience in the field. This is an important advantage in an area that relies heavily on practiced judgment.

Special Capabilities and Services
Using a procedure developed at Hopkins and offered by few other labs, we can expand a single sample onto multiple different slides. Cell transfer technique enables us to get far more information from small samples, restore broken slides and create additional slides from a single slide for immunostaining techniques and for rare cases.

Fine needle aspiration of superficial lesions performed by an experienced cytopathologist offers the advantage of ensuring adequate specimen. Diagnoses can in some cases, be made immediately and appropriate patient management begun. Special studies such as cultures, flow cytometry and immuno stains, may be requested at the time of aspiration to avoid waiting until the specimen is sent to the laboratory for review. Sites lending themselves to this procedure are breast, lymph nodes, salivary gland, soft tissue lesions and thyroid gland.

We often work with Hopkins radiologists to extract deep tissue samples through endoscopy using a CT, MRI, or ultrasound to locate the site. Fine needle aspirations of deep organs, a minimally invasive outpatient procedure is less traumatic and less costly than exploratory surgery. Moreover, diagnosis can often be made on the spot so that appropriate patient management can begin immediately. Organs commonly aspirated are:

  • thyroid gland
  • liver
  • lung
  • all sites lymph nodes
  • pancreas

Timely Results

When one of our pathologists obtains specimens from a patient, preliminary results can often be provided immediately. When we review submitted samples and slides, a written report and telephone consult can usually be provided within one or two days. Turnaround time for Pap test and other routine tests average three days.