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The “unfortunate experiment” in cervical cancer

Caroline M de Costa
Med J Aust 2010; 192 (2): 75.
Published online: 18 January 2010

The so-called “unfortunate experiment” of this book triggered the 1987 New Zealand Cartwright Inquiry into cervical cancer treatment. Consultant gynaecologist Herbert Green of the Auckland National Women’s Hospital was the main target of a long and complex legal process hinging on allegations that he had prospectively studied two groups of women referred to the hospital with positive cervical cytology. One large group received treatment, following which most had no further problems (although some later developed invasive cancer). The second group, it was said, had no treatment but, despite positive cytology, were followed for years so that the natural history of what are now called high-grade epithelial abnormalities (formerly carcinoma-in-situ) could be studied; these women were 25 times more likely than the first group to develop invasive cancer, from which some of them died. Green was accused of callously disregarding the health of these women to satisfy his own scientific curiosity, and condemnation of his actions was central to the findings of the inquiry.

  • Caroline M de Costa

  • Cairns Base Hospital, Cairns, QLD

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