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Insight

Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month September 2021

Early diagnosis of cancer focuses on detecting symptoms in patients as early as possible to give them the best chance of successful treatment. When cancer treatment is delayed, there is a lower chance of survival, greater problems associated with treatment and higher costs of care. Early diagnosis improves cancer outcomes by providing care at the earliest possible stage and is a vital public health strategy.

In 2017, the World Health Organisation launched its guide to cancer early diagnosis, aimed at policymakers and programme managers to promote early diagnosis and improve access to cancer treatment.

NHS guidelines currently recommend certain cancer pathways from initial consultation to treatment, including a specified timeframe for referral. The standard of care in the UK is generally high, but where there is a misdiagnosis and delay, the consequences can be devastating for the patient and their family.

The five forms of gynaecological cancer are: cervical, ovarian, vaginal, vulval and womb.

Unfortunately, awareness levels of gynaecological cancers among both women and men are worrying low. More than 21,000 women in the UK are diagnosed annually with gynaecological cancer, roughly 58 diagnoses every day.

The charities involved with offering support to women diagnosed with gynaecological cancers prioritise raising awareness to promote the importance of screening and early diagnosis, some funding research into better and earlier detection – particularly for ovarian cancer, one of the most difficult cancers to detect, currently with no proven screening test available.

Most women's first port of call if they are concerned about their gynaecological health is their GP, usually followed by referral to a gynaecological oncologist for further investigation where appropriate. For women who diligently attend screening, it is essential that smear tests and colposcopies are accurately reported to protect them from serious adverse consequences.

Medical negligence occurs when there is a failure to carry out adequate examination or take an accurate history, mistakes in interpreting the investigations or failure to refer a patient to the appropriate specialist for investigation.

Christina Gardiner and I recently settled a cancer misdiagnosis claim on behalf of a woman, Patricia, with cervical cancer, against the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. The Trust admitted that medical staff had misreported Patricia's colposcopy - a simple procedure used to examine the cervix. The results came back normal, when they should have been recorded as inadequate.

This error meant there was a delay in diagnosing Patricia's cervical cancer. When she was eventually diagnosed, she had to undergo radical hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy and pelvic node dissection. She also needed chemo-radiotherapy and suffered significant debilitating side effects as a result. Had the colposcopy results been properly recorded, further action would have been taken much sooner and Patricia would likely have avoided such radical surgery.

In a similar case against the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, there was also failure to report abnormalities on a client's cervical smear. Tragically, the delay meant that the eventual treatment was ineffective and settlement funded appropriate end of life care and support for our client.

Iona and Christina have a special interest in cervical cancer claims, recognising the vital importance of accuracy in cervical cancer screening, designed to minimise the chances of women developing cervical cancer.

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