George Papanicolaou (1883–1962): Discoverer of the Pap Smear

  • Vijayalakshmi Chandrasekhar
  • Chandrasekhar Krishnamurti
Short Commentary


Born in 1883 in Kyme, Greece, George Papanicolaou obtained his medical degree in 1904 from the University of Athens and doctorate in Zoology in 1910 from the University of Munich. He migrated to the USA in 1913 and worked as an assistant at the Department of Anatomy in the Cornell Medical College. There, Papanicolaou examined vaginal smears under his microscope, charted the cyclic ovarian and uterine changes every day and harvested the oocytes at the appropriate time. He published his research on the cytologic patterns in guinea pigs in the American Journal of Anatomy in 1917. Eventually, he began taking similar scrapings from women and noticing malignant cells in smears taken from women with cancer. In 1928, his presentation on the topic at the Race Betterment Conference in Battle Creek, Michigan, was greeted with skepticism as researchers felt that a biopsy and tissue examination was the only way to detect the disease. In 1939, he collaborated on a clinical study with Herbert F. Traut, MD, a gynecologic pathologist at Cornell, to validate the diagnostic potential of the vaginal smear and published their landmark paper in 1943 titled “Diagnosis of uterine cancer by the vaginal smear.” In 1954, Papanicolaou published the “Atlas of Exfoliative Cytology.”

George Nicholas Papanicolaou was a pioneer in cytopathology and creator of the Papanicolaou test or Pap smear. This revolutionized the early detection of cervical cancer and led to a 70% reduction in cervical cancer deaths.


Cervical cancer Screening Pap smear 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors Dr. Vijayalakshmi Chandrasekhar and Dr. Chandrasekhar Krishnamurti declare that they have no conflict of interest and have not received any research grants or honorarium, and no ethical issues are involved in preparation of the paper submitted.

Ethical Standards

Permission has been obtained for copyrighted images in our historical article titled “George Papanicolaou (1883–1962): Discoverer of the Pap smear”.


  1. 1.
    Carmichael DE. The Pap smear: life of George N. Papanicolaou. Springfield: Charles C Thomas Pub Ltd; 1973.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Papanikolaou MSG. History of medicine of the 20th century. Greek pioneers: Zeta Publishers, Athens; 2000.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Vilos GA. The history of the Papanicolaou smear and the odyssey of George and Andromache Papanicolaou. Obstet Gynecol. 1998;91:479–83.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Papanicolaou GN. New Cancer Diagnosis. In: Proceedings of 3rd Race Betterment Conference, Battle Creek, Michigan, USA 1928, p 528–34.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Papanicolaou GN, Traut HF. The diagnostic value of vaginal smears in carcinoma of the uterus. Am J Obstetr Gynecol. 1941;42:193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Papanicolaou GN, Traut HF. The diagnostic value of vaginal smears in carcinoma of the uterus 1941. Arch Pathol Lab Med. 1997;121:211–24.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Federation of Obstetric & Gynecological Societies of India 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vijayalakshmi Chandrasekhar
    • 1
  • Chandrasekhar Krishnamurti
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Obstetrics and GynecologyGITAM Institute of Medical Sciences and ResearchRushikonda, VisakhapatnamIndia
  2. 2.Department of AnesthesiologyNRI Institute of Medical SciencesVisakhapatnamIndia

Personalised recommendations