Mrs. Pap


I’ve just about completed my yearly round of poke, prod, scrape and squash tests and found a tidbit to keep in mind for your next pub trivia night.   The pap smear test was developed by Dr.George Papanicolaou (yes, he was Greek), in the 1930’s.

He graduated from medical school (Athens) in 1904,  and began his medical career first as an assistant surgeon in the military and then caring for patients at a leper colony.

In 1914 he took up a position of assistant in the Department of Anatomy at New York’s Cornell Medical School.  Along the way he had earnt a PhD in Zoology from the University of Munich, Germany.  At Cornell  Dr. Papanicolaou  first worked with guinea pigs –  examining vaginal smears to determine the existence of a menstrual cycle.

In 1920, Dr. Papanicolaou began his study of vaginal cytology of the human female.   In 1928 he published a paper about the results of his work, entitled, “New Cancer Diagnosis”.  Also in 1928 he became a US Citizen and took the position of Assistant Professor of Anatomy at Cornell.

In 1939, the reevaluation of the vaginal smear for cancer detection began as all female patients at New York Hospital were required to take a routine vaginal smear.  Dr. Herbert Traut, a gynecological pathologist, worked  with Dr. Papanicolaou to validate the diagnostic potential of the vaginal smear. In 1943, they published their findings in the  “Diagnosis of Uterine Cancer by the Vaginal Smear.” The diagnostic procedure was named the Pap test.

Papanicolaou’s wife Mary (referred to as Mrs. Pap),  was also his assistant and allegedly endured a smear test every day while her husband worked on developing the pap diagnostic test.

Lady Mary Papanicolaou, who before her marriage had the magnificent name Andromachque Mavroyeni,  was later awarded the Order of Saint Helen* in honor of her important contribution to medical science as an assistant to her husband!

*The Most August and Most Ancient Imperial Order of Saint Helen.   The Orders of Constantine the Great and of Saint Helen are Orders of Knighthood, founded in 312 AD , whose members are dedicated to the Chivalric Principles of Personal Honor,  Courage, Integrity, Duty,  Charity and Service.

I’d say she went beyond her “duty”  as a wife …..


25 responses

  1. Very interesting Emjay. I had known where the name came from but didn’t realize how early in the last century this had all transpired. I also had no idea that the doctor’s wife had played such a big part in the study for this test. I suppose it would make sense though. In that day in age it probably would have been hard to find many that would be willing to subject themselves as voluteers.

    • Yeah, I don’t imagine many woman would’ve willingly opened their legs for such a thing back then – it would’ve seemed very perverted. I suppose that is maybe why New York Hospital required routine smears as part of the treatment of female patients.

    • Yes, FD his development of the diagnostic test certainly cut down the death rates from cervical cancer. I think that now I’ve had so many “normal” results I get to go every 2 or 3 years instead of yearly. They do not send reminders here like they do in Australia so I will have to put it in a 2012 diary. Doing everything at the same time yearly is easier to remember!

    • I found his history really interesting (PhD in Zoology for starters) and I loved Mary’s maiden name: Andromachque Mavroyeni – if I was not past childbearing years I might have a daughter running around with that LOL 🙂

    • There was not a lot of information about Mary online. While I was waiting for my fun test I saw a little sentence that said something along the lines of “Mary Pap undertook a pap smear every day but you only have to do it every one or two years”. It motivated me to Google her when I got home.

  2. I didn’t know any of that! And hats off to Mrs Pap, a remarkable woman indeed who not only endured the nastiness of a smear on a DAILY basis but also before the technique and equipment had been perfected. Well done that woman!

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