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September 19: Elizabeth Stern versus Cervical Cancer

September 18, 2015

Groundbreaking Canadian pathologist Elizabeth Stern, whose investigations into the progression of cells from normal to cancerous turned cervical cancer into a detectable and treatable disease, was born on this date in 1915. Stern became a U.S. citizen in 1943 and was one of the first biologists to specialize in cytopathology, the study of diseased cells. She identified 250 stages of cell development from normal to cancer, which greatly helped with cancer screening. In 1963, while she was professor of epidemiology at UCLA, she wrote the first case report linking a specific virus (herpes simplex) to a specific cancer (cervical cancer). Ten years later, she was the first scientist to link lengthy use of oral contraceptives to cervical cancer.

“Her research helped make cervical cancer, with its slow rate of metastasis, one of the types of cancer that can be successfully treated by prophylactic measures (i.e., excision of abnormal tissue).” —Encyclopedia Britannica