Woman Referred Back For Smear Tests Every Three Years After Virus That Causes Disease And Borderline Abnormal Cells Detected
A mum-of-two has instructed lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate after being diagnosed with cervical cancer nearly three years after testing positive for a virus that can cause the disease.
Shannon Dunkley, of Wombwell, Barnsley, underwent a smear test in 2019. It was found she had human papillomavirus (HPV) and borderline abnormal cells.
Shannon referred back for three-yearly tests despite HPV guidelines
Following tests at Barnsley Hospital including biopsies, Shannon, aged 35, was referred back to her GP surgery for routine screening every three years. Women who have HPV and a negative smear test should have a repeat HPV test after 12 months, according to National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines.
In early 2021, Shannon, started experiencing bleeding, which later became heavier and almost daily. She also started experiencing hip and pelvic pain.
The midwife attended medical appointments at her GP surgery and was referred to gynaecology at Barnsley Hospital. Following a telephone appointment in the summer of 2021 she attended an in-person hospital appointment for an ultrasound scan. She later saw a gynaecologist who diagnosed her with cervical ectropion - a condition in which the delicate cells which line the cervical canal spread onto the surface of the cervix - with a plan to conduct a follow up appointment within two to three months.
Shannon underwent a smear test in May 2022 which found HPV and abnormal cells. She received two letters from Barnsley Hospital saying her follow up gynaecology appointment and her smear test results would be discussed at the same time.
Barnsley mum Shannon diagnosed with cervical cancer
During the appointment in June 2022, Shannon underwent large loop excision surgery (LLETZ) to remove part of her cervix. Following tests, she was diagnosed with stage 1 cervical cancer. However, following further tests and scans, the cancer had spread to surrounding tissue and lymph nodes, and she was diagnosed with advanced stage three cancer.
Shannon, who has two children Nathaniel, 11, and Niamha, eight, with husband Jason, 39, underwent chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy, where radiation is inserted into the body near to the cancer.
Medical negligence lawyers asked to investigate
She has instructed expert medical negligence lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate her care under Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
Shannon has now spoken for the first time about her diagnosis and is joining her legal team in supporting Cervical Cancer Prevention Week.
Expert Opinion“The last few months and coming to terms with her diagnosis and its impact has been incredibly difficult for Shannon and the rest of her family.
“Understandably she has a number of concerns about her diagnosis, particularly around being referred for testing every three years after she was positive for HPV as well delays once she had developed symptoms. While HPV is a common virus that usually goes away without causing any problems, it can be linked to cancer and so it’s crucial that thorough investigations take place and that patients are followed up correctly.
“We’re now investigating Shannon’s concerns to provide her with the answers she deserves.
“Through our work we sadly see the impact that cervical cancer can have. Shannon hopes that by sharing her story she can help others be aware of the symptoms.
"We join her in supporting this incredibly important campaign as early detection and treatment are key to beating cancer.” Rosie Charlton
Cervical cancer: Shannon Dunkley's story
Following her treatment Shannon has recently had an MRI scan and has been told that she is currently all clear of cancer but that she will need to remain under close review. She is experiencing difficulties with her mobility and is undergoing further investigations to establish whether they are related to her cancer treatment.
She said: “It’s almost impossible to find the words to describe what the last few months have been like.
“For a number of months my symptoms were getting worse and really started affecting me both physically and mentally.
“Each time I had an appointment I explained my symptoms and my previous smear results but I felt that my concerns weren’t fully listened to. It only felt that action started to be taken after my follow up smear test last year. Even though I knew something wasn’t quite right nothing prepared me for the news I had cervical cancer.
“The treatment, particularly while trying to come to terms with my diagnosis and how the cancer was more advanced than initially thought was difficult, not just physically but emotionally.
“After my diagnosis I started researching and was shocked to discover NICE guidelines around positive HPV results and that those with the virus should have a repeat test at 12 months.
“I’ve tried to remain as positive as I can, not only for myself and my recovery but for Jason and the children. However, I still have so many questions and concerns about my diagnosis, being referred for smear tests every three years despite having HPV and early borderline cells being detected as well as it taking a year after being contacted by gynaecology to receive my diagnosis.
“While I know I can’t turn back the clock I feel that the least I deserve is answers.
“I just hope that by speaking out I can help raise awareness of the symptoms of cervical cancer to help others.”
Cervical Cancer Prevention Weeks runs from 23-29 January and is organised by the charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust. More information is available on the Jo's Trust website.
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