Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) is a non-profit research institution that specializes in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology, quantitative biology, and genomics. The organization is located on the shores of Cold Spring Harbor in Laurel Hollow, New York. The Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences established the CSHL in 1890, to provide scientists with facilities to research Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory. The first mission of CSHL was biological science education. Since 1998, CSHL has housed the Watson School of Biological Sciences, a PhD program dedicated to scientific research. Nobel Laureates who conducted experiments at the CSHL include Barbara McClintock, Alfred Hershey, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Sydney Brenner. Throughout its history, researchers at CSHL have studied embryology, reproductive medicine, and genetics.
Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is an artificially created hormone first synthesized in the late 1930s. Doctors widely prescribed DES first to pregnant women to prevent miscarriages, and later as an emergency contraceptive pill and to treat breast cancer. However, in 1971, physicians showed a link between DES and vaginal cancer during puberty in the children of women who had taken DES while pregnant. Consequently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned its use during pregnancy. In the late 2000s, several studies showed that the grandchildren of women who had consumed DES also suffered medical issues. By the early decades of the twenty-first century, roughly ten million people in the US had been exposed to DES, and three generations of individuals had suffered medical issues due to DES exposure. Researchers class DES as an endocrine disruptor, which affects the form and function of the hormone (endocrine) system.
Screening for Breast Cancer with Mammography is a Cochrane systematic review originally published by Peter Gøtzsche and Karsten Jørgensen in 2001 and updated multiple times by 2013. In the 2013 article, the authors discuss the reliability of the results from different clinical trials involving mammography and provide their conclusions about whether mammography screening is useful in preventing deaths from breast cancer. Mammography is an X-ray technique used to detect abnormalities in breast tissue, such as breast cancer, which affects about twelve percent of women in the world and has a significant risk of mortality. The authors concluded that mammography screenings reduced breast cancer mortality, but resulted in problems such as overdiagnosis and overtreatment of screened women. The article Screening for Breast Cancer with Mammography contributed to the then ongoing controversy about the usefulness of mammography and provided accessible information about mammograms in seven languages.
This thesis answers the following question: How does the history of cervical cancer show that prevention helps reduce rates of cancer-related deaths among women? By studying the history of cervical cancer, people can understand how a cancer that was once one of the top killers of women in the US has declined to become one of the lowest through the establishment of and effective communication of early prevention and diagnostics, both among the general public and within the medical community itself. This thesis is organized based on key episodes which were pertinent to the history of cervical cancer, primarily within the United States and Europe.
From 1936 to 1945, the Women’s Field Army, hereafter the WFA, educated women in the US on the early symptoms, prevention, and treatment of reproductive cancers. The WFA was a women-led volunteer organization and a branch of, what was then called, the American Society for the Control of Cancer, or ASCC. The WFA, headquartered in New York City, New York, recruited hundreds of thousands of women volunteers across the country. They distributed pamphlets, showed movies, and participated in other grassroots efforts to foster an understanding of reproductive cancers, namely breast and cervical cancer, among other women. The Women’s Field Army aided in reducing the number of cancer-related deaths by spreading cancer prevention awareness and teaching women about their reproductive health and the early detection of cancer, which was one of the first widespread educational resources about reproductive cancers for women.
Walter Schiller studied the causes of diseases in the US and Austria in the early twentieth century and in 1928, invented the Schiller test, or a way to diagnose early cervical cancer in women. Cervical cancer is the uncontrollable division of cells in the cervix, or lower part of the uterus. While living in Austria until his emigration to escape the Nazis in 1937, Schiller concluded that there was a form of cervical cancer, later named carcinoma in situ, that physicians could detect earlier than when tumors start to appear. To determine whether women exhibited that early form of cancer, Schiller stained women’s cervixes with a type of iodine that would stain healthy cervical tissue and not cancerous cervical tissue. Cervical cancer is more deadly to women when it is caught later in its progression, and was difficult to detect in Schiller's time. Schiller’s research enabled physicians to diagnose cervical cancer early, helping women receive treatment quicker and ultimately helping to popularize annual diagnostic exams in the US.
In 1913, journalist Samuel Hopkins Adams published “What Can We Do About Cancer? The Most Vital and Insistent Question in the Medical World,” hereafter “What Can We Do About Cancer,” in Ladies’ Home Journal. Cancer is a disease that is the result of abnormal cell division in different parts of the body, such as the breasts or the cervix. During that time, many women did not discuss or disclose early symptoms of reproductive cancers, such as breast lumps and abnormal vaginal discharge, out of shame or disgust. Thus, people often considered cancer to be a taboo topic. “What Can We Do About Cancer?” provides a representation of what people in the early 1900s thought to be the early warning signs of cancer in women. Although, as of 2021, researchers have made advancements that have increased the scientific understanding of cancer and how it develops, Adams’ article provided women in the US during the 1900s with recommendations on early methods of cancer detection.
In 2017, Angiolo Gadducci, Silvestro Carinelli, and Giovanni Aletti published, "Neuroendocrine Tumor of the Uterine Cervix: A Therapeutic Challenge for Gynecologic Oncologists," hereafter, "Neuroendocrine Tumor" in the journal, Gynecologic Oncology. The authors conducted a systematic review of existing literature that documented the symptoms, diagnosis, staging, treatment, and outcomes of women diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumors, or cervical NETs, which are tumors with cells similar to cells from both the hormonal and the nervous system. Based on high mortality rates and the rarity of cervical NET diagnoses, the authors conclude that cervical NETs present a challenge for physicians in terms of devising novel ideas for treatment. By compiling the treatment methods and resulting outcomes of different studies, the authors presented evidence that there is a need for new forms of treatment to reduce the number of women dying from cervical NETs each year.
From 1963 to 1982, researchers in New York City, New York, carried out a randomized trial of mammography screening. Mammography is the use of X-ray technology to find breast cancer at early stages. The private insurance company Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York, or HIP, collaborated with researchers Sam Shapiro, Philip Strax, and Louis Venet on the trial. The researchers’ goal was to determine whether mammography screening reduced breast cancer mortality in women. The study included sixty thousand women aged forty to sixty-four. Half of the women received two annual breast examinations that involved mammography, a breast exam, and an interview. The rest of the women were not invited for annual examinations. After follow up, the researchers found that of the women who received the examinations, thirty percent fewer died from breast cancer than the women who did not receive any examinations. The HIP trial was one of the first large-scale clinical trials to provide evidence that mammography screenings helped prevent breast cancer deaths in women.