Elizabeth Stern

Elizabeth Stern

Elizabeth Stern (married name Elizabeth Stern Shankman, September 19 1915, Cobalt, Ontario, Canada - August 18 1980, Los Angeles, Calif., U.S.) was a Canadian-born American pathologist, especially well-known for her insights on the cell's progression from a healthy to a cancerous state. Stern received her medical degree from the University of Toronto in 1939 and the following year migrated to the United States, where she became a naturalized citizen in 1943. Stern was one of the first scientists specializing in cytopathology, the study of diseased cells. From 1965 she was professor of epidemiology at the University of California at Los Angeles.

In 1963, Stern published what is widely recognized as the first case report linking a specific virus (herpes simplex) to a specific cancer (cervical cancer). She was also the first (1973) to show a definite link between the prolonged use of combined oral contraceptive pills and cervical cancer, connecting the use of the contraceptive pill with cervical dysplasia.

Her breakthrough studies of cervical cancers changed the disease from fatal to one of the most easily diagnosed and treatable. She demonstrated that a normal cell advances through 250 distinct stages before reaching an advanced cancerous state. This allowed the development of effective diagnostic techniques and prophylactic measures (excision of abnormal tissue), which, combined with this cancer's slow rate of metastasis, reduced its fatality rate drastically.


  • Stern, Elizabeth. (2006). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 22, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service.

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