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NEWS | Aug. 3, 2020

METC cytotechnologist program closes its doors

By Jorge Franco METC cytotechnologist program director

After 53 years of training cytotechnologists, the Medical Education and Training Campus cytotechnologist program will be eliminated.

This program was established at Brooke Army Medical Center in 1967 as the U.S. Army School of Cytotechnology. Since the U.S. Army also trained Navy and Air Force military cytotechnologists, the program’s name changed to the Interservice Cytotechnology Program in 2004.

Four years later, the program moved to the Army Medical Department Center and School, now the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, or MEDCoE. In 2010, the program found its new permanent home at the Medical Education and Training Campus, or METC, at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.

The METC cytotechnologist program is a bachelor’s of science degree-granting program that provides education and training in the art and science of cytopathology. Cytopathology is a branch of pathology that studies and diagnoses diseases on the cellular level.

Cytotechnologists screen human cell samples under the microscope to detect early signs of cancer and other diseases. Physicians use the information supplied by the cytotechnologists to make a final diagnosis.

The training program was created in response to the need to support the "invention" and expansion of the Papanicolaou, or Pap, test. According to the American Cancer Society, or ACS, the Pap test has been more successful than any other screening test in preventing cancer. 

The ACS began to educate the public about the value of Pap smear, which is a collection of cells from the cervix. As women began taking the advice of the ACS, it became obvious physicians alone would not be able to accomplish the task of evaluating these smears, and that additional personnel would need to be trained to examine the specimens. The U.S. Army then established its own training program.

Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. However, in the past 50 years, the number of cases of cervical cancer and the number of deaths from cervical cancer have decreased significantly. This decline is largely the result of many women getting regular Pap tests, which can find cervical precancerous cells before they turn into cancer.

However, cytotechnologists read more than Pap tests. The past 20 years have seen an ever-expanding role for cytotechnologists, such as liquid-based preparations, human papillomavirus DNA testing, computerized image analysis, evolving algorithms for clinical testing and follow-up, and revised reporting terminology.

The increasing volume and levels of complexity of non-gynecologic cytology specimens, including ever-prevalent clinical demands for immediate adequacy assessment of fine-needle aspiration biopsy specimens, were incorporated into the cytotechnology program’s complex curriculum and clinical rotations as well.

The elimination of the cytotechnologist program stems from the realignment of Army training to a more lethal force. Since its origin, the program has produced 628 military cytotechnologists and maintained an impressive track record of awards and recognition throughout the cytotechnology community.