JANE CHOMET was a pioneer of primary-care screening programmes now commonplace in general practice. She was particularly well-known as a leading campaigner for the early detection and treatment of pre-cancerous forms of cervical cancer. As a result of her innovations and dedication, many women owe her not only their fertility but also their lives.
Her interest in cervical cancer began in the 1960s when as a medical student at the Royal Free Hospital she met George Papanicolaou, the doctor who developed the cervical smear (also known as the 'Pap' smear) as an early technique for the detection of cervical cancer. Several years later, having started up a practice in north London, she was determined that no woman should suffer from cervical cancer as a result of negligence.
She instigated intensive screening programmes for all women in her care at a time when government regulations stated that most women under 35 need not be screened and that one smear every five years was adequate. Yet her annual check-ups revealed abnormal smears that could lead to cancer in teenage girls, and ironically she even discovered a potential cancer in the mother of a top gynaecologist. She was screening a thousand women a year and was horrified to discover an abnormality rate of around 9 per cent (although many of these were not related to cervical cancer).
She was the first GP in Britain to offer a colposcopy service on the National Health Service, where a colposcope (a specialised microscope) was used to examine the cervix. 'Katie the Colposcope' (as she called it) enabled women with abnormal smears to have a follow-up diagnosis in the relative comfort of her magnificently designed purpose-built surgery rather than suffer the agony of waiting weeks for a hospital appointment. She chose the colposcope as a wedding anniversary present in preference to the diamond ring her husband had originally offered. The welfare of her patients was always paramount.
In the early 1980s, while working alongside Dr (now Professor) Albert Singer at the Royal Northern Hospital, north London, she learnt to use a laser (on loan from the manufacturer) to provide a quick, relatively painless and cheap alternative treatment to invasive and often painful surgery for cervical abnormalities.
She was determined that the hospital should have the laser permanently, and with the help of the local newspaper, marathon runners, swimming galas, Raise-A-Laser T- shirts and sponsored walks, she drove a campaign to raise pounds 25,000 to buy the laser. In less than five months the total was raised and the laser purchased.
As an acknowledged expert on cervical cancer she wrote newspaper articles and gave countless interviews on radio and television programmes such as Panorama to argue for improved screening services. In 1989, she co-authored with me a book, Cervical Cancer, which has since become recommended reading for medical professionals. Further papers on screening appeared in the British Medical Journal, publishing ideas that were subsequently adopted by the World Health Organisation.
Jane Chomet was not just a pioneer in cancer research. She also initiated the use of hormone replacement therapy and well-woman and well-man clinics before they became fashionable. She did research on cardiovascular disease, diabetes and asthma in her practice, and one innovation was to enlist the help of an opera singer to teach breathing techniques to young asthmatics.
The daughter of Jewish parents living in Poland during the Second World War, she was born Janina Friedman in 1934. She owed her survival to the ingenuity of her mother Celina, whose procurement of false identity papers enabled them to escape the Gestapo on several occasions. Her father, Bruno Friedman, a distinguished lawyer, along with many other of her relatives, was murdered at the start of the German occupation.
However, her mother then married a Polish doctor, Jacob Sekler, who brought them to England in 1947 and inspired Jane to become a doctor. Medicine became her life and obsession. She once said: 'If I don't see patients I'm miserable.' Jane Chomet was always far too busy to be miserable.