Edward A. Sawada, cervical cancer expert

Baltimore Sun

Edward Akira Sawada, an obstetrician and gynecologist who was a noted cervical cancer expert, died Nov. 28 at Manor Care Dulaney nursing home in Towson of injuries suffered two years ago in an automobile accident.

The longtime Towson resident was 89.

Dr. Sawada, the son of Japanese parents, was born and raised on Guam. He had settled on pursuing a medical career as a youngster, and after graduating from Guam Institute High School, left the island in 1941 to attend Georgetown University and its medical school.

Drafted into the Army in 1944, he served at various military installations, including the a naval hospital in St. Albans, N.Y., until 1946, when he returned to Georgetown University School of Medicine. While attending medical school, he also worked at Arlington Hospital in Virginia from 1947 to 1948.

He spent the last two years of medical school at the University of Virginia and completed his internship and residency at the University of Virginia Hospital.

From 1950 to 1952, Dr. Sawada, who had been called to active duty during the Korean War, served as lieutenant at the 382nd Evacuation Hospital at Fort Myer, Va.

In 1953, he moved to Baltimore, where he completed a two-year residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Maryland General Hospital.

Dr. Sawada joined the Naval Reserve in 1954 and served on active duty until 1957. From 1974 until being discharged with the rank of colonel in 1984, he served with the Maryland National Guard.

After conducting a private practice, Dr. Sawada became the physician and chief of the Towson County Unit of the Division of Cancer Control for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Dr. Sawada, who was described by colleagues as being a "highly skilled colposcopist and a leading cervical pathologist," established a statewide colposcopy program in 1967 and conducted clinics for underprivileged teenagers and women.

He also established a program throughout the state whereby women could take a simple home test to detect cancer of the cervix.

In addition to his clinical work, Dr. Sawada pursued his research interests and concluded that papilloma viruses were the cause of cervical cancer.

"In 1981, I found a lesion in one of my clinic patients' mouths. It was determined to be infected with DNA positive HPV16," Dr. Sawada wrote in autobiographical notes.

"HPV16 is one of several HPV causative agents for cancers of the cervix. Cancer of the cervix is now epidemic in young women under the age of 20. My youngest patient is 10¿ years old," he wrote, describing his life work. "I initiated the first statewide clinic for indigent women in Maryland in 1967. No other state has this same program."

Dr Sawada predicted that the human papilloma virus would also cause cancer of the mouth and announced his findings in the Journal of Medical Virology in 1985.

"This observation was important for the study of transmission and natural history of HPV-associated diseases," wrote Dr. A. Schneider, director of the Charite Campus Benjamin Franklin in Berlin, in a letter to Dr. Sawada in 2005.

Dr. Sawada retired in 1986 but continued to work until recent years at a clinic in Hagerstown.

In 2000, Dr. Sawada was recognized for his work at the 18th annual Reproductive Health Update Conference and by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

"This honor reaches far beyond the setting of a professional meeting, however, into the cities and counties of Maryland where thousands of women are leading healthy lives thanks to your pioneering offers to bring the best of medical technology to every community," wrote Dr. Donna E. Shalala, who was then secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about the conference.

"Your professional journey has brought diagnostic and potentially life-saving evaluation to women with abnormal Pap smears. Even now, in your eightieth year, you are bringing colposcopy information to the clinics of Western Maryland," wrote Dr. Shalala, now the president of the University of Miami.

Dr. Shalala added that Dr. Sawada's "selfless career" has "enhanced the health and lives of so many Maryland women."

Dr. Sawada became close friends with former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley when he was denied his military pension because of supposed missing records.

Mrs. Bentley was finally able to get Dr. Sawada's pension restored in 2008.

"It took 24 years from the time he left the Maryland National Guard," she said.

"He impressed me, and we became good friends. He was a very gentle person and not a braggart about his many accomplishments," Mrs. Bentley said. "No one really knew of his medical achievements."

His wife of 16 years, the former Joan Macbeth, died in 1971.

Services will be held at noon Friday at Peaceful Alternatives Funeral and Cremation Center, 2325 York Road, Timonium.

Surviving are a son, Edward B. Sawada of Towson; two daughters, Brenda A. Sawada of Shrewsbury, Pa., and Sharon L. Ratcliff of Cockeysville; six grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

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