Friday, 19 July, 2024
HomeObituaryDeath of pioneering cervical cancer researcher Lynette Denny

Death of pioneering cervical cancer researcher Lynette Denny

Prof Lynette Denny, a pioneering cervical cancer researcher and women’s health champion and former head of the obstetrics and gynaecology department at the University of Cape Town, died on Sunday after a long illness.

Denny, 66, was a gynaecological oncologist who dedicated decades of her life to cervical cancer research, screening and treatment, and had received multiple awards for her work. She was director of the South African Medical research Council gynaecological cancer research centre and had recently retired as head of obstetrics and gynaecology at UCT.

Since 1995, Denny and her team had been working with researchers from Columbia University on the Khayelitsha cervical cancer screening project, conducting research on cervical cancer prevention strategies in low-resource settings.

Health-e News reports that she also served as chairperson to the non-profit organisation Rape Crisis and was a driving member of the team that pioneered Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) in 2006, a critical part of the country’s anti-rape strategy aimed at reducing secondary victimisation.

Peers recall her driving to Groote Schuur Hospital at night to operate on rape survivors, reported Spotlight in an interview three years ago.

Her work has influenced policy decisions in South Africa and internationally.

Colleague Professor Mushi Matjila, current head of obstetrics and gynaecology at UCT,  wrote: “The extent of her contributions and impact was not only local but extended to the global community. She remained a stern and unwavering advocate for the most vulnerable women within our society,” while Associate Professor Lionel Green-Thompson, dean of health sciences at UCT, said: “I am deeply saddened at the death of our colleague and friend, Emerita Professor Lynette Denny.”

In another tribute, treatment and prevention advocate for Cancer Alliance Salome Meyer borrowed from the poet Maya Angelou, writing that Denny was “a phenomenal woman/scientist/gynaecologist who only had the patients at heart”.

“She laid many solid foundations… in South Africa she laid a solid foundation for the cervical cancer elimination strategy – all we need to do is to provide the building blocks to continue with her legacy. We owe this to her. What an extraordinary human being.”

Dedicated to her cause

Denny, who was HoD from 2013 until 2022, had studied medicine at UCT and then pursued her PhD on detecting HPV among women living in Khayelitsha.

Her early research, started soon after scientists discovered the link between HPV and cervical cancer, found that up to 90% of HIV-positive women would develop HPV infection.

BusinessLIVE reports that Denny’s most recent work focused on self-screening for HPV, providing HIV positive women with swab kits they can use at home rather than relying solely on Pap smear tests provided by the state every 10 years.

She also championed the rights of rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence survivors, and with her then colleague Lorna Martin, head of UCT’s department of forensic medicine, designed new protocols to improve the examination of women and men who had been raped.

Her team was the first to introduce the routine provision of anti-HIV pills for rape survivors.

In a Spotlight interview in 2021, sitting in a wheelchair, Denny revealed she had metastatic (stage IV) breast cancer, which had spread to her spine.

She had just returned from a trip to Pretoria to accept the Order of the Baobab (Silver), South Africa’s highest accolade for citizen excellence. Despite her painful spine, Denny stood next to President Cyril Ramaphosa as he draped the silver medal around her neck.

She told Spotlight: “What I would like to impart to those who follow me when I leave… is that to be able to be of service to your community is a great privilege. It’s not a duty. It’s not a burden. Immersing myself in the Khayelitsha community was just so liberating; to lose the sense of othering, to feel connected to humanity like that has been so enriching. I recommend it.”


BusinessLIVE article – OBITUARY: Pioneering cervical cancer researcher Denny dies at 66 (Restricted access)


Health-e News article – Tribute: Prof Lynette Denny, A Giant Bows Out  (Creative Commons Licence)


Spotlight article – Interview: Prof Lynette Denny reflects on an extraordinary life of service (Creative Commons Licence)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


SA makes strides with HPV vaccine campaign, but not fast enough


Doctors reiterate that HPV vaccines are safe


Cervical cancer self-screening the answer to reduce fatalities


Eastern Cape school study shows concerning HPV prevalence

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