Cell blocks in cytopathology: a review of preparative methods, utility in diagnosis and role in ancillary studies

Cytopathology. 2014 Dec;25(6):356-71. doi: 10.1111/cyt.12174. Epub 2014 Aug 11.


The cell block (CB) is a routine procedure in cytopathology that has gained importance because of its pivotal role in diagnosis and ancillary studies. There is no precise review in the published literature that deals with the various methods of preparation of CB, its utility in diagnosis, immunocytochemistry (ICC) or molecular testing, and its drawbacks. An extensive literature search on CB in cytology using internet search engines was performed for this review employing the following keywords: cell block, cytoblock, cytology, cytopathology, methods, preparation, fixatives, diagnostic yield, ancillary and molecular studies. Ever since its introduction more than a century ago, the CB technique has undergone numerous modifications to improve the quality of the procedure; however, the overall principle remains the same in each method. CBs can be prepared from virtually all varieties of cytological samples. In today's era of personalized medicine, cytological specimens, including CBs, augment the utility of cytological samples in analysing the molecular alterations as effectively as surgical biopsies or resection specimens. With the availability of molecular targeted therapy for many cancers, a large number of recent studies have used cytological material or CBs for molecular characterization. The various techniques of CB preparation with different fixatives, their advantages and limitations, and issues of diagnostic yield are discussed in this review.

Keywords: cell block; cytological techniques; cytopathology; diagnostic utility; immunocytochemistry; molecular diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy, Fine-Needle
  • Cytodiagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry*
  • Pathology, Molecular*