"Talking About Down There": The Development of a Public Discussion of Cervical Cancer in the Twentieth Century
Hadenko, Mandy Lee
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This dissertation emerged from personal and political concerns and aims to fill a historiographical lacuna. This thesis is a study of how Canadian women learned about cervical cancer and its prevention in the twentieth century. In particular, this thesis seeks to understand how, when and in what forms did a public discussion of cervical cancer prevention develop in late twentieth century Canada. Cervical cancer is significant in terms of its place in disease history. When discovered in the pre-cancerous stage, cervical cancer is quite preventable. Since the 1960s, the medical community has been aware that Pap smears can be used to recognize pre-cancerous lesions and that deaths from cervical cancer were avoidable. Its uniqueness as a “preventable” cancer provides an example of the relationship between scientific knowledge, public health, and popular practice. The public dialogue about cervical cancer prevention, I argue, was complex. There were numerous groups that were part of this public discussion including medical doctors, the medical profession, medical educators, women’s health activists, women’s organizations, newspapers, women’s press, individual women and support groups, and the municipal, provincial and state agencies. This thesis demonstrates that while dialogue among these historical actors was rarely in conflict, tensions did emerge as medical practitioners, women’s health activists and public health officials debated how best to link biomedical knowledge with preventive health policies.