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Papanikolaou, Georgios

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Georgios Papanikolaou

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Georgios Papanikolaou
(May 13, 1883 - February 19, 1962)
Born in Greece
Year of Discovery: 1928


His Test Prevents Many Deaths from Cervical Cancer

As a young boy, growing up on the Greek island of Euboea, Georgios Papanikolaou loved the sea. He spent endless days sailing alone, dreaming of the day when he would be old enough to join the navy. But, as often happens, Papanikolaou was called upon to carry on the family business. In this case the family business was medicine, as Papanikolaou's father was a doctor. After earning his medical degree from the University of Athens, Papanikolaou decided he would dedicate himself to biological research. This was a relatively new field of study, just in its infancy in Greece, and this led him to move to the United States. It was in New York that Papanikolaou made a discovery of incredible significance to women. He devised a gynecology screening method, known as the Pap smear, which allowed him to detect premalignant conditions. This allowed these conditions to be treated, thus avoiding the development of cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer forms in the cervix, the narrow lower end of the uterus that connects to the top of the vagina. The detection of cervical cancer, prior to the Pap smear, was often difficult. This is due to the fact that cervical cancer is both slow growing and often shows no symptoms (is asymptomatic). The initial cellular changes that take place within the cervix, during the premalignant stage, rarely cause symptoms. So, before the Pap smear, cervical cancer was usually not detected until it reached an advanced stage. This was very often too late and, despite aggressive treatment, resulted in the death of the affected woman. Papanikolaou’s new test changed this. The Pap smear was able to detect these cellular changes before they became cancerous. He collected samples of cells from the cervix and then spread (smeared) them on a laboratory slide. This slide was then examined under a microscope to look for abnormalities that showed premalignant conditions. Caught early, these premalignant conditions can be successfully treated. This not only spares many women from cervical cancer, but also retains their ability to become pregnant and have children. Since the widespread introduction of the Pap smear, deaths from cervical cancer have dropped over 70 percent.

Papanikolaou’s procedure was a monumental breakthrough. But, as medical history has consistently shown, change is hard and breakthroughs are often unwelcome. Though Papanikolaou made his discovery in 1928, it was not until the 1940s that the Pap smear found acceptance within the medical community. Even then it would take years for the lifesaving test to reach many of the women of the world. Eva Peron, in fact, died in 1952 of cervical cancer in Argentina, a country where widespread use of the Pap smear did not begin until the 1960s. She was just 33 years old.


Introduction by Tim Anderson


Table of Contents

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Key Insight
Key Experiment or Research
Key Contributors
Quotes by the Scientist
Quotes About the Scientist
Fun Trivia About The Science
The Science Behind the Discovery
Personal Information
Science Discovery Timeline
Recommended Books About the Science
Books by the Scientist
Books About the Scientist
Major Academic Papers
Curriculum Vitae
Links to Science and Related Information on the Subject


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Papanicolaou Society of Cytopathology biography:

Champion Catholic High School biography:

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Key Insight

Key Experiments or Research


Key Contributors

The Team
Explore other scientists who furthered this lifesaving advance.

Cervical Cancer

Aurel Babes
Revolutionized the field of cervical cancer detection.
Herbert Traut
Developed a critical test to detect cervical cancer.

Quotes by the Scientist

Quotes About the Scientist


Fun Trivia About the Science

The Science Behind the Discovery

Personal Information

Scientific Discovery Timeline

Recommended Books About the Science

Books by the Scientist

Books About the Scientist



Major Academic Papers Written by the Scientist

Curriculum Vitae

Links to Information on the Science