Case study: £610,000 for misdiagnosis of abnormal smear resulting in terminal cancer
Our medical negligence solicitors acted for a client who developed cervical cancer and secondary cancer in both lungs after a failure to diagnose changes in the cells of her cervix following a cervical smear in March 2014.
Visits to GP with heavy and irregular periods
In March 2014, our client, Ms S, attended her GP practice and reported post-coital bleeding and occasional thrush. She received a cervical smear and vaginal exam at the hospital, which were reported to be ‘normal’. The report stated that no dyskaryotic cells were identified and, therefore, Ms S was not to be recalled for a further smear until three years’ time (2017).
Return to GP with further symptoms
In May 2016, Ms S began to notice post-coital spotting again, as well as intermenstrual bleeding. Ms S was not initially concerned, having had a history of menstrual problems. However, when the frequency and flow of the bleeding increased, she sought advice from her GP.
Her doctor advised her that the bleeding was most likely due to her coil and would improve when it was removed.
By January 2017, the bleeding was constant and difficult to manage. Again, the GP advised Ms S that the bleeding would stop once the coil was removed, so Ms S felt reassured that there was a simple solution and no immediate cause for concern. However, as her symptoms worsened, she sought advice from her doctor on several occasions.
Failure to have a follow-up smear test
Later in 2017, Ms S was invited to attend a routine smear test. However, she was informed that the smear could not be done whilst she was bleeding and to return once the bleeding had stopped.
Following this, Ms S started experiencing abdominal pain with a heavy feeling in her lower abdomen, as well as pain during sexual intercourse. Feeling unwell and anxious about her symptoms, she contacted her GP again.
In late 2017, Ms S attended her GP practice to have her coil removed, but the procedure failed due to dark and heavy bleeding throughout the examination.
Hospital referral and diagnosis of cervical cancer
After failing to remove Ms S’ Mirena coil, she was referred for an ultrasound scan. This took place in November 2017 and, shortly afterwards, she was diagnosed with a poorly differentiated squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix, with endometrial involvement. An MRI scan from December 2017 revealed a cervical mass, roughly 4cm in size, in which Ms S’s Mirena coil was embedded. The tumour was stage two.
Unfortunately, in February 2018, it was found that the cancer had metastasised (spread) to Ms S’ lungs and she was given only three to five years to live.
She underwent surgery to remove her left lung metastasis in August 2018, but it was not possible to resect the right lung metastasis at this time.
In November 2019, Ms S underwent complex open surgery on her right lung, lasting six hours, to remove three areas containing metastatic disease. In January 2020, a scan showed that Ms S still had a mass in her right lung.
Claim for medical negligence
Ms S pursued a medical negligence claim with us following the news of her terminal cancer diagnosis in 2018.
She initially instructed us to investigate whether there had been a delayed diagnosis of her cervical cancer at the fault of her GP, who had not investigated her menstrual symptoms. A GP expert was instructed to consider this, but as he was unsupportive of this specific allegation, this aspect of her claim was not pursued further.
As cervical cancer tends to grow quite slowly and it is unusual to develop stage two cancer within three years of a ‘normal’ smear test, we requested the audit trail of Ms S’ 2014 smear from the Defendant Trust. This was eventually released after about 18 months
We instructed an expert Histopathologist to examine this audit and it became clear that our client’s smear was abnormal due to severe dyskariosis within the cervical cells. If the smear test had been reported correctly, Ms S would have undergone a Colposcopy and Lletz procedure, the abnormal section of the cervix would have been removed and she would not have developed cervical cancer and secondary disease in her lungs. Furthermore, an early diagnosis would have prevented her limited life expectancy.
Settlement of the claim
Following the investigation into Ms S medical reports, we invited the Defendant to admit liability for the incorrect smear result report.
The Defendant admitted that, without their negligence, Ms S would not have developed stage two cancer or metastatic lung cancer. The Defendant further admitted that, if treatment had been correctly initiated in 2014, Ms S would have avoided the need for radiotherapy, chemotherapy, brachytherapy and two operations to remove her lung metastases, and she would have had a normal life expectancy.
The claim was settled out of court in 2022 for £610,000.