NEWPORT, R.I. -- An independent laboratory is re-examining 19,000 Pap smears performed at Newport Hospital since 1988 after a woman who had tested negative four times in eight years died of cervical cancer last spring.
Of 1,190 Pap smears rechecked so far, investigators have found that in 17 cases women were told they did not have cancer when the tests actually indicated early signs of cervical cancer.
A separate re-examination of 407 of the hospital's Pap tests by federal investigators in May turned up 12 that had been misread.
Acknowledging that "terrible mistakes" had been made, Robert J. Healey, the president of the private nonprofit hospital, offered a public apology at a news conference Friday and announced that the hospital was offering to pay for a new Pap smear for any woman whose test had been evaluated in its laboratory in the last five years.
The Pap smear, a test named for its inventor, Dr. George Papanicolaou, is widely used to detect cancer of the cervix. In the 65 years since its introduction, the death rate from cervical cancer has dropped by 70 percent, medical experts say.
Among the slides being re-examined are tests performed at the hospital and tests sent to the hospital's laboratory by private doctors.