Specializing in cancer pathology, Dr. Edith Sproul was the first to describe the relationship between thrombophlebitis and pancreatic cancer and the first pathologist to describe cell changes associated with the early stages of cancer of the prostate. Her work with George Papanicolou at Cornell University Medical School led to the development of the pap smear test for cervical cancer, and she and Charles Gutman of Mount Sinai, New York, were co-discoverers of the association between prostatic cancer and the enzyme acid phosphatase.
Edith Sproul was born in Passaic, New Jersey, in 1907. She earned her undergraduate degree at Barnard College, Columbia University, in 1927, and enrolled in the College of Physicians and Surgeons there the same year. After graduating in 1931, Dr. Sproul was appointed assistant in pathology, a position she held for two years until she began an internship in medicine at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York. After completing her intership and a residency in pathology at Presbyterian Hospital, Dr. Sproul returned to the College of Physicians and Surgeons as an instructor in pathology in 1934, By the time she left, in 1946, she had risen through the ranks from instructor to associate professor.
In 1946, Dr. Sproul was appointed full professor at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, where she also served as acting chair of the department of pathology. In her three years at American University she was the only professor of pathology; teaching, supervising laboratory work, running the diagnostic pathology service and performing autopsies. She came back to Columbia in 1950, as associate professor of pathology, and from 1953, chief pathologist and director of laboratories at the Francis Delafield Hospital of New York City. Although she was offered a full professorship at Columbia in 1961, she left the university that year to accompany her second husband, to the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, where she was appointed associate chief of cancer research. In 1969 she was also named chair of the department of experimental pathology and clinical professor of pathology. In her long career she was both an esteemed researcher and a beloved teacher, and when she died in 1999 colleagues and former students praised the enormous influence she had had in medical research and in their own careers.