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Case study: compensation for delayed cancer diagnosis
It was recently reported that a 26 year old woman from Bristol died from cervical cancer after her request for a smear (cervical screening) test was turned down due to her age.
When Mrs Ryder first visited her GP with symptoms of cervical cancer, she was mistakenly diagnosed with erosion of the cervix. Her concerns about cancer were dismissed and she was not offered a smear test because she was under 25.
It was only after a later biopsy (a procedure where cells are removed for testing) that cervical cancer was detected. She underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but the cancer later returned.
Katie Donne, of the clinical negligence team, looks at a recent case we dealt with which also involved a delayed cancer diagnosis.
Case study: Mrs A
Mrs A went for a smear test in December 2007, the results of which showed pre-cancerous changes to the cells in her cervix.
In February 2008 Mrs A underwent a colposcopy – a procedure in which the surface of the cervix is scraped away. On this occasion a smear test wasn’t performed before the colposcopy. If it had it would’ve been discovered that the cancer was far more extensive than was previously thought and that it was likely to be in a part of the cervix which the colposcopy had been unable to reach.
As there were changes to Mrs A’s cells, the doctor offered Mrs A two choices: a biopsy or further smear test in six months. The doctor didn’t indicate any urgency, so our client opted for the smear test six months later.
At that next smear test, Mrs A was told that she needed a loop biopsy. This biopsy took place in September 2008, however it failed to take enough of the cervix and not all of the pre-cancerous cells were removed. Mrs A had another biopsy but again, not all of the cells were removed.
As a result, Mrs A had to have a radical hysterectomy (an operation to remove the womb) in February 2009. Sadly it was only during this procedure that it was discovered that Mrs A did indeed have cervical cancer.
As a result, she underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment, both of which were extremely disruptive. Mrs A was very unwell throughout.
Our client was later advised that if she had undergone a smear test prior to the colposcopy in February 2008, would not have had to undergo the chemotherapy, radiotherapy or the hysterectomy. Whilst it would not have been standard practice to conduct a smear beforehand, it would’ve been good practice when considering the claimant’s age and past medical history.
While Mrs A’s treatment did not fall below a reasonable standard of care, the defendant health trust admitted that failing to perform a smear test in February 2008 was an unreasonable omission and that greater standards of cervical sampling should have been applied.
The case settled without having to go trial and Mrs A was awarded damages. Her damages were comprised of previous losses resulting from her inability to work, plus her likely expenses in the future and compensation for her pain and suffering.