Tragically, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer (after breast cancer) to affect women aged 15-44 years in the European Union. Cancer Research UK has reported that two women lose their lives to cervical cancer every day.
However, all is not doom and gloom. Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers which can be prevented or detected early by screening, and more recently with the HPV vaccination. The BBC reported on 22 January 2024 that the HPV vaccine was proving very effective in preventing cervical cancer. In a study carried out by Public Health Scotland there had been no cases of cervical cancer in a sample study of women who had received the HPV vaccine at age 12-13 years.
Whilst cervical smears and screening can detect cervical cancer or pre-cancerous cells earlier, the process is by no means infallible. It relies upon patient compliance and also the technical ability of those obtaining and reporting the samples. Sometimes false positives and false negatives are reported, due to human error. For example, in April 2023, it was reported that NHS Scotland recalled 13,000 women due to errors in the cervical screening programme, some of whom had died from cervical cancer.
Human error in cervical screening can have a devastating impact on the patient’s life. Medical negligence specialist solicitors at Shoosmiths are currently acting for Miss Jones (not her real name), an NHS worker, who suffered a negligent two-year delay in diagnosis of cancer. As a result of the delay, she underwent extensive chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy to her pelvis. Although this fortunately cured her cancer, it caused significant damage to her bowel, bladder, kidneys ovaries, vagina and other pelvic organs. Had the cancer been diagnosed two years earlier, she could have undergone a minor procedure to remove the cancerous cells with no lasting effects.
Miss Jones has suffered life changing injuries, including a total loss of fertility due to the damage to her ovaries. As a young woman, she had not started a family at the time of her diagnosis, and due to the damage to her ovaries, tragically she is now unable to have biological children of her own.
She also suffers from bladder and bowel incontinence, fatigue and pain due to the chemotherapy. Due to damage to her bladder and ureters, she cannot properly empty her bladder, meaning that she relies on nephrostomy bags attached to either side of her back, which are connected directly to her kidneys via tubing. As a result of the damage to her vagina, and the painful side effects of the radiation treatment, sex is now also painful and unenjoyable. As a young, outgoing and vibrant woman, her life has been altered beyond recognition. Her only alternative to using the nephrostomy bags is to undergo extensive surgery to remove the majority of her pelvic organs, and potentially to remove and close her vagina.
Public Health England and the Government published guidance in October 2021, stating that all women diagnosed with cervical cancer should be offered a review of their cancer screening history. Cases of cervical cancer must be reported to an independent body, who will arrange an audit of the previous screening. This review process should be completed within 12 months, and the patient informed of the outcome.
Natasha Read, senior medical negligence specialist solicitor at Shoosmiths comments:
“Women who have received a diagnosis of cervical cancer should be able to focus their efforts into treatment and recovery. However, it is important for families and those around them to be aware of the duty of NHS organisations to properly review, audit and report any misinterpretation of cervical cancer screening, in accordance with Public Health England guidance. If samples have been misreported, it is a woman’s right to find be told.”
This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024