Cervical cancer is becoming less common as modern research becomes more advanced. Our medics are becoming adept at spotting the signs of malignant growths in the cervix. However, because the early stages of cervical cancer present few symptoms, doctors often misdiagnose the condition when it is at its most treatable, causing prolonged suffering. This delay is diagnosis allows the cancer to advance, which requires more intensive treatment, with undesirable and severe side effects.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
Cancer develops when cells divide, and rapidly multiply, forming a tumour, or a lump of tissue, which can mutate and become dangerous. These aren’t always cancerous and may lie benign. It is unknown what causes the tumours to become cancerous, however research shows that several factors may encourage the development of cancer in the cervix. These are:
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is a group of virus’ that is spread during sexual intercourse. It is thought that 1 in 3 women will develop the virus within 2 years of being sexually active, and almost all cases of cervical cancer occur in women who have had the virus at some point.
Most types of HPV don’t present any recognisable symptoms and the infection will naturally pass without the need for treatment, however high risk strains of HPV are thought to contain genetic material, which can be transferred into the cells of the cervix. This transfer of cells causes disruption in the normal workings of the cells, which can cause them to reproduce at an intensive rate, leading to the growth of a cancerous tumour.
Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia
Cervical cancer can often take many years to develop fully before it turns progressive, pre-cancerous cells begin to develop known as Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia. Although this isn’t an immediate threat of cancer, and won’t always turn into cancer, it shows a strong indication that there is mutation in the cervix that must be monitored.
Although HPV is a known initial cause of cervical cancer, there are other risk factors that pose a threat. These include:
Women who smoke are estimated to have double the chance of contracting cervical cancer, in comparison to those who don’t.
If a woman takes the contraceptive pill for more than 5 years, evidence shows that they are almost twice as likely to contract cervical cancer, compared to those who do not take the pill.
Women who have children are thought to have a raised risk of contracting cervical cancer, with research suggesting that the more children you have, the greater the possibility. The reasoning behind the link between cervical cancer, and having children is unclear; however, theories suggest it is related to the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
The symptoms of cervical cancer aren’t always entirely obvious, which is why it is so important for your doctor to take notice of the milder symptoms; issuing a diagnosis, or at least referring their patient for further testing.
Early Symptoms include:
- Unusual bleeding, In the majority of cases bleeding from the vagina, particularly after sex, is the first perceptible symptom of cervical cancer. However, bleeding at any time outside of your usual menstruation period, or even after the menopause, is considered unusual.
- Pain in, and around, the vagina whilst having sex
- Unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge
- Pain when passing urine
Advanced Symptoms Include:
- Blood in your urine
- Lack of bladder control
- Bone pain
- Swelling in one of your legs
- Swelling in one or both kidneys
- Changes to your bowel and bladder habits
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Tiredness, fatigue and lack of energy
Diagnosing Cervical Cancer
If you suspect you may be suffering from cervical cancer it is imperative that you seek medical advice immediately, explaining the symptoms you are suffering to your GP. If your doctors feels the symptoms could indicate cervical cancer, you will be sent for a smear test. If any suspicious results are returned you will be sent for further testing.
If your GP feels there may be cause for concern, you will be referred to a specialist gynaecologist, examining any abnormalities in the cells of the cervix. There are several tests that follow, which help to determine a diagnosis:
Colposcopy- if your smear test comes back abnormal, or you have any symptoms which suggest you may have cervical cancer, a gynaecologist will carry out this procedure, whereby an internal vaginal examination will take place.
During this procedure a small tube with a microscope, and a light attached, will be used to enter the cervix, looking for any abnormalities. Once this examination has taken place, the gynaecologist may remove a small sample of tissue so that it can go under testing, establishing if there are any cancerous cells.
Cone Biopsy- If during the colposcopy the gynaecologist is unable to gain a proper view of the cervix, the second port of call will be a cone biopsy. This is a more invasive procedure, which involves a minor operation. A small ‘cone shaped’ part of the cervix is removed, so it can be examined more closely. This is usually done under local anaesthetic, and there may be vaginal bleeding, and period like pains, for up to 4 weeks after the operation.
Further Testing– If results come back that there are positive indications of cancer, then you will be sent for further testing. There is a risk that the cancer may have spread, and doctors will need to establish how far the cancer has reached. These tests may include:
- Pelvic examination
- Blood tests
- Computer tomography (CT) scan
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan
- Chest x ray
- Positive Emission Tomography (PET) scan
Treating Cervical Cancer
When treating cervical cancer, a hospital will normally provide you with a multidisciplinary team of specialists, who will be able to give you the best course of treatment. Members of this team will include:
- A surgeon
- A clinical oncologist
- A medical oncologist
- A pathologist
- A radiologist
- A gynaecologist
- A social worker (in some cases)
- A psychologist (in some cases)
- A specialist cancer nurse
For earlier stages of cervical cancer the best course of treatment would be surgery to move the cancerous tumours. Sometimes, as an alternative to surgery, or alongside surgery, a course of radiotherapy is used, ensuring all of the cancerous cells have been removed. If the tumour is more than 4cm in diameter, radiotherapy will be used, as it is difficult to remove a tumour of that size. Alongside such measures, the patient may be treated with chemotherapy; it is thought that a combined method is more effective.
If the cancer is advanced, but restricted to the pelvic area, a combination of surgery and chemoradiation can be used, but the surgery is much more extensive, and restricted to a very small numbers of cases. This is a major operation, known as a pelvic exenteration, which will be carried out on the nearby organs, such as the bladder.
In very advanced stages the only option is to administer a course of chemotherapy, in an attempt to control the cancer, and relieve the symptoms. This can potentially prolong a better quality of life, treating the cancer where it has spread to distant areas of the body. Under these circumstances, it is crucial that a doctor reviews all of your symptoms, beginning treatment immediately; a cervical cancer misdiagnosis can have devastating consequences.
Prognosis for Cervical Cancer
Like all forms of cancer, the prognosis depends on the severity of the tumour. Detecting cancer early leaves you with the best chances of recovery. The survival rate of cervical cancer caught in its earliest stages is high at 71%, where it is highly treatable. Many women can go on to lead unaffected lives, and be able to carry on as normal. In more severe cases, the chances of survival can be as low as 17%.
How you may have a claim
If you feel the standard of care provided to you by any medical professional of cervical cancer was below what is expected, then you may be eligible to make a claim for clinical negligence compensation. If a doctor has failed to test you for cervical cancer – despite being presented with linked symptoms, or failed to look into any abnormalities, then you may been subject to negligence.
You may be entitled to make a claim if your doctor failed to recognise the symptoms of cervical cancer, causing a delay in diagnosis. A complete examination could have resulted in a diagnosis for cervical cancer, reducing the suffering that the patient was subjected to. Sometimes a delay in diagnosis, or the complete misdiagnosis of cervical cancer, can allow the cancer to spread to an advanced untreatable stage, affecting neighbouring organs, causing significant and unnecessary suffering.
Why Should I Make a Cervical Cancer Misdiagnosis Claim?
If you have misdiagnosed with cervical cancer, through medical negligence, then you are more than entitled to apply for misdiagnosis compensation. The delay may have affected your life in a very negative way, that need not have happened, if the diagnosis was made earlier. Making a claim for cervical cancer misdiagnosis can help regain your quality of life, with the money helping to contribute towards any loss of earnings, compensation for unnecessary emotional and physical suffering, and any health care costs which may have arisen during treatment etc. Patients that have been misdiagnosed should not feel apprehensive about making medical negligence claim, doctors have a duty of care that should be fulfilled, failing to do so can lead to devastating consequences, which deserve to be compensated.
Cervical Cancer Misdiagnosis Resources
Our guide, How Will A Cancer Misdiagnosis Change Your Life? was written to provide information and guidance on how to deal with a cancer misdiagnosis, as well as highlighting the occurrence rates of these errors due to an overworked NHS.
What do I do next?
If you, or a loved one, have suffered from a cervical cancer misdiagnosis as a form of clinical negligence, then you should contact us for further information about your potential cervical cancer misdiagnosis claim.
At Asons, we have an experienced team of solicitors, who are experts in dealing with cases of cervical cancer misdiagnosis and clinical negligence, who will be able to build a case, and offer you support in claiming damages for the sub-standard care you have suffered.
There are time limits in place for claims such as these, so it is important that you contact us as soon as possible to discuss your claim.