A startling report in The Independent newspaper earlier last year revealed that as a result of failings at a laboratory in Essex, thousands of cervical cancer screening results were to be reviewed by the NHS. This was because it had been discovered that some women tested were incorrectly given the all-clear. At the time of the news article, 17 women had erroneously been told that their test samples had tested negative for cervical cancer, with 1600 more samples still to be reviewed.
Given that, as with most cancers, early diagnosis of the disease is usually the key to the most favourable outcome for sufferers, this news would have been hugely alarming to say the least for those women involved.
According to Cancer Research Uk around 9 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every day in the UK. That equates to over 3200 new cases of the disease every year. The same charity’s research found that 99.8% of cervical cancer cases are preventable.
If misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of cervical cancer has taken place, then it may be possible to make a claim for misdiagnosis of cancer compensation claim.
What is Cervical Cancer?
The cervix is the lower part of the womb. Cervical cancer develops in the cervix when abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix grow in an uncontrolled manner. The two main types of cervical cancer are:
- Squamous cell cancer
Of the two, squamous cell cancer is the most common form. Between 70% and 80% of all cervical cancers are of this type. (Source Cancer Research UK).
What are the early symptoms of cervical cancer?
The cell changes that give rise to cervical cancer do not cause symptoms. These changes can be picked up though by means of a cervical screening test. This was formerly known as a ‘smear test.’ Because symptoms do not generally manifest themselves it is hugely important that women undergo these tests and having done so, just as vital that the medical experts pick up on any abnormalities revealed.
In the early stages of the disease itself, however, cervical cancer usually makes its presence known through:
- Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Inter-menstrual bleeding
- Pain in the area between the hip bones
- Unusual vaginal discharge
If cervical cancer is picked up at an early stage, then with appropriate treatment the prospects for a full recovery are good.
Under the NHS Cervical Screening Programme, all women registered with a GP are invited for cervical screening as follows:
- Aged 25 to 49 years – every three years
- Aged 50 to 65 years – every five years
- Aged over 65 – only women who have had abnormal tests
Incidences of cervical cancer are highest in women aged between 25 and 29.
What happens if abnormal cell changes are noted as a result of a cervical screening test?
Something called a speculum is put into the vagina. A speculum is a duck-bill-shaped device that doctors use to see inside a hollow part of your body and diagnose or treat disease. Once inserted the nurse is able to open the speculum up so that she can see inside the vagina. A soft brush is then used to take a sample from the cervix. The sample is then put into a vial of preserving liquid and taken away for testing. It is not of itself a test for cancer, but rather to check the health of the cervix. In most cases the test shows up no abnormalities and that the cervix is quite healthy. It is only about 1 in 20 cases that abnormalities are present.
If abnormalities are noticed then the person will be called back within a few weeks of the initial screening for a further test known as a colposcopy during which a sample of tissue may be removed for further examination. In some cases, if abnormal cells are obviously present during the colposcopy, then treatment to remove those cells may take place immediately. If this isn’t possible, it will only be once the results of the biopsy are known (between 4 and 8 weeks) that further action will be taken if the biopsy results confirm the presence of abnormal cells.
Where the cancer advances to a mid-stage, then treatment is either by hysterectomy or sometimes with radiotherapy of the pelvic area.
Late stage cervical cancer is treated by using chemotherapy.
Claiming compensation in the event of misdiagnosed or delays in diagnosing cervical cancer
Throughout this article, reference has been made about ‘catching the disease early’. Early detection and prompt action will invariably lead to the person affected either not going on to develop cancer at all or the cancer being very treatable, if it has just reached the stage of being diagnosed.
Problems with missing opportunities to either prevent the cancer or to treat it at an early stage, arise most frequently, but not solely, in any of the following circumstances:
- Mistakes by medical experts in interpreting cervical screening test (formerly ‘Smear Test’ results).
- GPs failing to refer women quickly enough to a gynaecological oncologist for further investigation.
- Cancer being missed during a colposcopy examination.
- Failing to carry out an adequate examination or take an accurate record of the examination.
- Mistaken diagnosis of cervical cancer leading to unnecessary surgery.
A claim for medical negligence arising out of a missed or wrongly diagnosed case of cervical cancer does not just mean proving that there was negligence by a GP or another medical expert who owed a duty of care to the victim. Proving negligence is one thing. The person making the claim also has to be able to show (with the help from their solicitors and experts) that they have suffered a loss (injury). So, if there was delay in diagnosis of the cancer or of the cell abnormality, but that did not cause the outcome to be different than it would have been, if it had been diagnosed earlier, then that is not likely to be enough to bring a successful claim.
However, if the delay caused the cancer to move to a more advanced case, resulting in a greater degree of pain and suffering and more invasive or extensive treatment, than would have been the case had the negligence not taken place, then a claim may have a good chance of succeeding. Sometimes, tragically, a sufferer may die as a result of delayed or misdiagnosed cervical cancer. In circumstances where that happens, the claim will survive the person that has died and often their family will be able to proceed with a claim for compensation.
Truth Legal- we are here to help
Clinical negligence claims are usually far from straightforward to pursue. That does not mean that they are impossible to bring. Claims for cervical cancer misdiagnosis claims are no different to any other medical negligence claim in that the person seeking someone to help them pursue a claim must look for a specialist medical negligence solicitor to assist them and one that has successfully pursued cancer misdiagnosis compensation claims before. We believe that is vital.
At Truth Legal we have dedicated specialist clinical negligence solicitors who have a wealth of relevant experience. They also have a professional, ethical and empathetic approach to their work, at a time when often their client may just need a shoulder to lean on, every now and then.
Deciding whether to bring a clinical negligence claim can often feel like a big decision. If you have any concerns about this, or you would just like some more information, please contact us today so we can discuss your situation.
Our initial consultations are free and there is no pressure on you to take matters any further. If you do decide to proceed and ask us to start a claim for you, then we will offer to do our work for you by using a No Win, No Fee Agreement. Why not call me now, Gary Warriner, to have an informal chat about your possible claim? Call us on 01423 788 538 or if you prefer email us at [email protected]