The History of Cervical Cancer

It took nearly 150 years from Rigoni-Stern’s observation that ‘cancer of the uterus’ might be related to sexual lifestyle for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) to be established as the cause of cervical cancer i the 1980’s.

Pananicolaou developed his smear test for early cancer detection in 1943 but it tool until 1988 for a properly organised population-based service to be established in England.

Accounts of the 1960’s & 70’s abound with tales of the uncertainty about effectiveness of screening and the disorganisation, inconsistencey and opportunistic nature of much of the screening.  Although the Ministry of Health established a smear testing programme in 1964, it was not until 1988 that the current NHS Cervical Screening Programme was established.

The idea that cervical cancer was associated with some aspect of sexual lifestyle was not new in the 1960’s and Stanley Way and later Albert Singer and others were among those who studied the ‘male factor’ in the aetology of cervical cancer.

The impact of the primary prevention programme through HPV vaccination on future geerations is the culmination of a fascinating scientific story and one for future historians to recount.

Exerts taken from:  Anne M Johnson:  Division of Population Health and Intitute for Global Health, UCL