10 Diseases That Used to Be Death Sentences

Cervical Cancer
Gardasil is one of two vaccines available for preventing most forms of cervical cancer. Russell Kirk/Merck & Co. via Getty Images

As recently as the 1940s, the leading cause of death among women in the U.S. was cervical cancer. But the advent of the Papanicolaou(Pap) test contributed to a 60 percent decline in cervical cancer death rates and incidence in the United States between 1955 and 1992 [source: NIH]. The test, which is typically administered during annual gynecological visits, can identify precancerous cells before they have a chance to get out of control.

Pap tests check for the presence of human papillomavirus, some versions of which are transmitted sexually, and can cause cell changes that result in cervical cancer [source: Haynes]. In recent years, experts have begun encouraging adolescent girls to receive the HPV vaccine, which can altogether prevent certain types of the virus [source: National Cancer Institute]. Nearly 4,000 women died in 2010 of cervical cancer, although the rate is dropping by the year [source: CDC].

"Within our lifetimes, we may see a country free of women dying from cervical cancer if screening and vaccination is done in an appropriate and timely way," explains David Espey, M.D., acting director in the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at CDC.