Guinea Pigs and Pap Smears

posted by Dr. Brian Wilson on Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Papanicolaou smear, or, Pap smear, is a routine screening test for cancer of the uterine cervix. It was first conducted in 1928 and its efficacy was proven by 1941. Since then, it has been used worldwide as a clinical tool for the early detection of cancer. Precancerous changes, not visible to the naked eye, are easily detected by the pap smear. 

George and Andromache Papanicolaou were the genesis of the discovery of this monumental screening test, which is now recognized as the most significant advance in the control of cancer within the last 125 years. 

The Papanicolaous immigrated to the United States in 1913 where scientific and research opportunities were more plentiful than their home in Greece.

They initially found employment at Gimbel’s department store in New York. She sewed buttons for $5 per week, and he was a rug salesman.

A year later, they found work at Cornell University testing the concept that X and Y chromosomes determined one’s sex. 

This study required guinea pig eggs at mitosis just before ovulation. However, ovulation in guinea pigs could not be determined unless the animals were sacrificed.

He recalled that ‘the females in all higher animals have a periodic vaginal discharge’, and he hypothesized that the guinea pig would have one as well, but would most likely be too scanty to be visualized externally.

So, using a nasal speculum, he examined the vaginas of his guinea pigs, and noted ‘a wealth of diverse cell forms, and distinctive cytologic patterns’.

That same day, the first Papanicolaou smear was performed on his wife, and similar cellular patterns were noted.

Through this finding, the correlation of cytologic patterns to hormonal changes lead to the development of hormone replacement therapy as well as diagnosing other endocrine abnormalities.

In 1925, while conducting a study of vaginal smears on female volunteers at a New York hospital, he noted changes in the cells of a woman with a known cervical malignancy. He recruited other women with genital malignancies and confirmed his observations.

Unfortunately, his discovery was met with little enthusiasm within the medical community until the early 1940’s when the value of the Pap test was finally accepted, and within a decade yearly pap tests became the norm.

Prior to the development of the Pap test, cervical cancer was the number one cancer killer of women in the United States, but with improvements in cervical cancer screening, HPV vaccinations and regular check-ups, cervical cancer should be an almost ‘never’ event. 

But thousands are still diagnosed every year. 

The American Cancer society estimates that there will be almost 15,000 new diagnoses of cervical cancer this year, and almost one-third of these woman will die of the disease.

Most (but not all)of these cancers can be prevented with proper screening and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

Because there are usually no signs or symptoms of early cervical cancer, in addition to routine screening, you should contact your health care provider if you experience:

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding or bleeding after intercourse
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse

If found early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers.

For most women, cervical cancer screening should begin and age 21 and continue until age 65

It can take a couple of weeks to receive your pap results. If your tests are not normal, your provider will discuss how to best follow up. Remember there are many reasons that your test results may be abnormal. It does not usually mean that you have cancer.

If your results are normal, you will probably be told that you can wait a few years before your next pap, but you should still plan for regular health check-ups.

To schedule a pap test and an examination, contact your primary care provider, or to schedule an appointment with Advanced Gynecology and Surgery at either our Spencer or Spirit Lake location, please call 712-264-3510.

  1. screening
  2. women's health

About The Author

Dr. Brian Wilson

Dr. Brian Wilson at Avera Medical Group Spencer - Advanced Gynecology & Surgery specializes in minimally invasive gynecologic surgery.