Cervical cancer generally presents in the early stages as inter-menstrual bleeding, post-coital bleeding or painful intercourse. There may also be unusual discharge. Symptoms of more advanced cervical cancer may include weight loss, back pain or referred pain in the legs.
Diagnosis should be reached by clinical examination to include palpation of the abdomen and a vaginal assessment, followed by a smear for cytological examination and colposcopy for direct visualisation to the cervix and properly directed biopsy. After these have been performed, the histology (tissue samples) should be reviewed and staging investigations arranged. These include full blood count, chest x-ray and CT of the abdomen and pelvis.
Delays in Diagnosis
If cervical cancer is diagnosed early the chance of being cured is normally good. Treatment for cervical cancer depends on the staging. Early cervical cancer can be treated by cone biopsy or surgical excision. Mid stage cervical cancer is usually treated with hysterectomy, sometimes with pelvic radiotherapy and late stage cervical cancer is treated with chemotherapy.
Mistakes in diagnosing cervical cancer can therefore be very serious. To succeed in a medical negligence claim you need to prove that the delay affected the outcome. Usually this means you need to prove that during the delay the cancer progressed to a more advanced stage. Therefore, delays of a few months are unlikely to be enough. However if cancer is left, it is likely to grow and can spread to other parts of the body. Medical negligence claims may be brought for:
- Failure to carry out an adequate examination or take an accurate history
- Failure to refer a patient to a gynaecological oncologist for further investigation
- Mistakes in interpreting smear tests
- Mistaken diagnosis of cervical cancer often resulting in unnecessary surgery
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