Profile on: George Papanikolaou, creator of the cervical Pap smear test

This is the third in a series of posts about interesting, inspiring and influential people. Today’s profile is on George Papanikolaou, a man responsible for saving millions of lives through his method for early cervical cancer detection.


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Who: George Papanikolaou, Greek cell biologist and early cancer detection researcher
Born: 13th May, 1883
Died: 19th February, 1962 (Aged 78)
Claim to fame:Invented the Pap smear test


Snapshot of Notable Facts & Achievements:

  • Graduated with Honours from the University of Athens. Papanikolaou received his medical degree in 1904 and then six years later he received his Ph.D. from the University of Munich.
  • In 1913 he emigrated to the United States and found a position at the Weill Medical School’s Department of Anatomy at New York’s Cornell University.
  • In his early research, Papanikolaou discovered that abnormal cells could be observed under a microscope. He later wrote, “The first observation of cancer cells in the smear of the uterine cervix gave me one of the greatest thrills I ever experienced during my scientific career.”
  • He reported that cervical and uterine cancer could be diagnosed by means of a vaginal smear in 1928, but this claim was not recognised until a research paper he published in 1943 with a colleague, Herbert Traut.
  • In 1950 Papanikolaou was awarded a Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research. He won many other prestigious medical awards for his contribution.
  • In 1961 he moved to Florida to develop the Papanikolaou Cancer Research Institute at the University of Miami, but he passed away from heart failure not long after, in 1962.
  • In 1978 his work was recognised by the US Postal Service with a 13-cent stamp for Early Cancer Detection.

Stamp image from

  • Papanikolaou’s portrait appeared on the Greek 10,000 drachma note from 1995 – 2001 (before being replaced by the Euro.

Banknote image from

For more information on cervical cancer screening, see the following links:

Cervical cancer screening in Australia
Cervical cancer screening in New Zealand
Cervical cancer screening in the UK
Cervical cancer screening in the USA

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4 thoughts on “Profile on: George Papanikolaou, creator of the cervical Pap smear test

  1. Your means of explaining everything in this article is
    actually fastidious, all can effortlessly know it, Thanks a lot.

  2. Dimitri says:

    1: Can you possibly expand? 2: Is there any decent film or documentary on the struggles of such extraordinary human being?

    • Hi Dimitri, I’m not an expert on the matter, but was rather sharing some info about this interesting person. What specifically were you hoping for me to expand on? I’m not aware of any movies about him but I’m sure there must be a documentary somewhere! 🙂

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