On This Day: May 13th, 1883 - Future physician, Georgios Nikolaou Papanikolaou was born. Though he died in 1962, his work continues to save lives to this day.
Through a relatively simple procedure, Dr. Papanikolaou discovered that by using a swab to collect surface cells from the cervix during a pelvic examination, cervical cancer could be detected. This is the origin of the “Pap smear” which refers to swiping the collected material across a slide to observe the cells under the microscope to try and detect cancerous changes. He wasn’t the first to discover malignant (cancerous) cells under a microscope, but he was the first to discover that cervical cancer could be detected early with this simple, low cost test. Today this test is used to try and catch cases of cervical cancer before they can spread. Early detection can make an enormous difference in the effectiveness of treatment of this disease.
Though he introduced this idea in 1928 at a medical conference, it was not widely adopted and there was described resistance in the medical community. It wasn’t until 1941 that Papanicolaou revisited the topic by publishing an article with a colleague featuring the same test as it applied to discovering cancer of the uterus.
Pap smears are still performed to this day and may be credited with reducing cervical cancer deaths by up to 80% when combined with regular screening and follow up.
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[Doctor with a mustache.]