The Cancer Detectives and the Fight Against Cervical Cancer

The Cancer Detectives and the Fight Against Cervical Cancer

In the 1920s, cervical cancer was deeply feared, little discussed and responsible for some 40,000 deaths of American women a year. There was little doctors could do once the cancer was detected and a diagnosis was most often a death sentence.

The Cancer Detectives tells the remarkable story of how the work of three true life savers slashed death rates of the previously unfightable cancer by more than 60 percent. The documentary premieres Tuesday, March 26, at 9pm on CET and ThinkTV16.

The filmrevolves around three main characters: Dr. George Papanicolaou, a Greek immigrant; Hashime Murayama, a Japanese-born artist; and Dr. Helen Dickens, a groundbreaking Black female surgeon and Dayton, Ohio native.

Dr. Papanicolaou – known as “Dr. Pap” – pursued the development of the diagnostic test that would go on to save hundreds of thousands of women. His wife, Mary, worked as his technician and lab manager, and she volunteered for the first Pap tests. But even after presenting his findings, Dr. Pap struggled to gain the attention of the medical community for quite some time.

Attitudes toward cancer began to shift and inspired Dr. Pap to continue his efforts. He then brought on the talented scientific illustrator Hashime Murayama to assist in depicting his work. However, Murayama was arrested and detained for his Japanese heritage during the outbreak of WWII. The fate of the project seemed in jeopardy once again, but they pursued knowing they needed to get the test out of the lab and into the real world.

Dr. Helen Dickens, a trailblazing African American OBGYN from Dayton who worked in Philadelphia, served as an activist and campaigned for the tests. She had already fought the odds to become a doctor in the 1930s and she worked to overcome deep distrust between the Black community and medical professionals, ensuring that the test would become an accepted part of women’s lives.

After over three decades of work from a coalition of people who made it possible – and certainly without an absence of hurdles – the Pap smear came to be a routinely accepted part of women’s healthcare. And by some estimates, the test has saved more than one million lives.

The Cancer Detectives shares the untold story of the first-ever war on cancer and the people who fought tirelessly to save women from what was once the number one cancer killer of women.

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