Woman's Battle With NHS After Delays In Diagnosing Cervical Cancer

Delay in diagnosis of cervical cancer

31.03.2009

A West Midlands’ Mum has won her five-year battle for an apology from the NHS after her local GP failed to spot that she was suffering from cervical cancer.

Mother of two, Cheryl Field from Dudley, said she hopes that by speaking out about her experience she can help prevent similar mistakes being made in future and encourage other young women to seek a second opinion if they are concerned about the treatment they are receiving.

Mrs Field underwent a routine smear test in November 2001.This was reported as negative, although subsequent investigations revealed there were in fact abnormal cells which had gone undetected.

Just over a year after the original smear test, Cheryl was alarmed when she started to suffer pain and bleeding.  On 23rd January 2003, Mrs Field, who at the time was just 26 years old, went to see her GP, Dr Shamsh Suleman at Withymoor Village Surgery.  Dr Suleman did not perform an internal examination but instead referred her to a gynaecologist on a non-urgent basis.

By May 2003 Mrs Field’s symptoms had become much worse. She recalls: “I was bleeding so heavily that it was soaking through my clothes and was suffering from really bad abdominal pains. I told my doctor about this and that I was worried it could be cancer but he laughed it off and told me not to be silly. He also admitted to me that he didn’t like having to deal with what he termed ‘women’s problems’.”

"I went away on holiday in June hoping the rest would do me good but the whole time I was away I had to take medication to try to control the pain.

"By the time I got back I was so worried that I phoned the hospital to ask if the consultant could see me urgently but they said my GP would need to write an urgent referral letter to be seen quickly.

"However, when I phoned Dr Suleman, he told me there was no such thing as an urgent referral and I would just have to wait for an appointment to come through."

Mrs Field was finally seen by a gynaecologist at Wordesley Hospital on 30th June 2003 who performed an internal examination and ordered an urgent biopsy that same day. One week later, Mrs Field was informed that she was suffering from cervical cancer.

The 5cm tumour was found to be too advanced to be treated surgically and Mrs Field instead was referred to New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton where she underwent an 8 week course of daily internal radiation and chemotherapy to shrink the tumour. She also required several blood transfusions due to the amount of blood that she had lost.

In November 2003, Mrs Field underwent a further MRI scan and finally received the news that the tumour had gone and she was given the all clear.  However, the internal radiation had caused permanent internal damage.  As result, she now constantly needs the toilet and suffers with debilitating pain, limiting her day to day activities.  Due to her ill health she had to take early retirement in December 2005, aged just 29.

Dudley South Primary Care Trust, who was responsible for employing Mrs Field’s GP, admitted that Dr Suleman ought to have referred her to hospital in January 2003 but they disputed this would have made any difference.  It has taken more than five years for the Trust to provide Cheryl with answers or agree compensation. The case finally settled just three weeks before the case was due to go to trial, when the Trust agreed to pay substantial compensation in an out of court settlement, despite never admitting liability.

Lindsay Gibb, a medical negligence expert with Irwin Mitchell solicitors, represented Mrs Field in her legal claim. She said: “When Cheryl reported bleeding to her GP he should have identified this as a “red flag” symptom and urgently referred her to hospital.  An independent expert advised that had this occurred, the cancer could have been treated surgically, meaning she could have avoided the devastating radiation treatment that caused so much damage to her internal organs at such a young age.

"Thankfully Cheryl has not developed any recurrence to date and, as more than five years have elapsed, there is now more than a 90% chance that her cancer will not return.

"However, Cheryl was extremely fortunate. Her symptoms should have rung alarm bells with her GP and the delay in urgently referring her could so easily have resulted in a tragic outcome. We have received reassurances from the Primary Care Trust that the GP has been retrained and they have now sent a letter of apology to Cheryl for his failings.

"Cheryl’s original smear test came back negative because there were only a few abnormal cells within the specimen and they were on the edge of the slide.  In 2008 the NHS changed its method of preparing smear slides to ‘liquid based cytology’, which should make for easier processing by the pathology lab. However, these reviews are ultimately still subject to human error and are reliant on the abnormal cells being detected."

Mrs Field commented: "With the recent tragic news about Jade Goody, it’s particularly scary to think that I was 26 when I was diagnosed – almost the same age as she was when she died. Like her, I have two small boys and the recent publicity surrounding her case has brought back to me just how lucky I am to be alive.

"I attended for my cervical smear and consulted my GP as soon as I had worrying symptoms but, because he did not act appropriately, my cancer spread.  I hope that lessons have been learnt.

"I am pleased that awareness about cervical cancer has increased significantly as result of what has happened to poor Jade and that the age limit for cervical smears may be lowered.  However, as my situation has shown, cervical smears are not fool proof and are not 100% effective in detecting abnormalities.  I would urge any woman who experiences unusual symptoms or is worried about her health, to seek immediate help and not to be fobbed off by her GP as it can result in a devastating delay in treatment."

If you have suffered due to a delayed cervical cancer diagnosis or misdiagnosed cervical cancer, our medical negligence lawyers could help you claim compensation. Call 0808 163 4557 for a free initial consultation or see our Cancer Misdiagnosis Claims page for more details.