Smudge cells are remnants of cells that lack any identifiable cytoplasmic membrane or nuclear structure. Smudge cells, also called basket cells, are most often associated with abnormally fragile lymphocytes in disorders such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). However, they can also be seen in degenerating samples; in which case, their origin may not be lymphocytic.
Smudge cells are indicated by the arrows in this image. In some laboratories, a semi-quantitative estimate of the number of smudge cells may be made; in others, a report of "smudge cells present" may suffice.
This reporting scheme must be understood by the physician in order to maximize patient care outcomes through his/her decision making process. For example, in the context of this exercise, does it make any difference to the physician if you report few or many smudge cells; or, is a report of smudge cells present sufficient? The answer to this question applies not only to smudge cells, but to the reporting of any other atypical white cells as well. An agreement must be reached between the hematology laboratory and clinical services as to how semi-quantitative estimates will impact the need for further testing in view of patient care outcomes.