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Written on 27th July 2021 by Fran Rothwell

A diagnosis of cervical cancer can be life-changing, both for the patient and their loved ones, but the sooner the diagnosis and treatment, the better the chance of a full recovery. Delays in diagnosis or treatment of cervical cancer may lead to the need for more invasive forms of treatment and result in lifelong pain and disability. When the delay in diagnosis or treatment and resulting severe injury were caused by negligent medical care, the injured person may be entitled to compensation.

Abnormal cells or cervical cancer?

When a cervical smear test reveals abnormal cervical cells, this is usually referring to cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). CIN is graded from CIN1 (low grade) to CIN3 (high grade) and should be monitored and treated. CIN is not cervical cancer but if it is not properly monitored and treated there is a possibility that it could develop into squamous cell cervical cancer. This is why it is so important to attend cervical screening appointments when invited to do so.

Squamous cell cervical cancer is the most common type of cervical cancer. About 70% to 80% of cervical cancers are this type.

Cervical cancer is graded, from 1 to 3, according to how quickly it grows and is likely to spread. Grade 3 cells look very different from healthy cells and grow quickly.

Cancer is staged according to its development, location, and how far it has spread within the patient’s body. There are four stages of cervical cancer, ranging from stage 1, where the cancer is very small, to stage 4 where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

The treatment for cervical cancer will depend on the grade and stage. Stage 1 cancer may be treated by a large loop excision, cone biopsy or in some cases by more extensive procedures such as a trachelectomy or hysterectomy. More advanced cervical cancers may be treated with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy (internal radiotherapy).

What difference does a delay in diagnosis of cancer make?

We have acted for many clients who have been left severely injured after they experienced a delay in diagnosis of cervical cancer. In one case, we obtained an admission of liability for a woman who attended her cervical screening appointment but, despite abnormalities, her follow up biopsy and smear test were incorrectly reported as ‘normal’. We have also acted for women who have experienced significant delays as a result of failure to follow up abnormal smear and biopsy results.

In each of these cases, if diagnosis had occurred earlier, these women would not have required chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments, which led to significant long-term complications.

Two of the most common long-term, physical consequences of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment following cervical cancer are bowel and bladder difficulties. These can cause long-term pain and incontinence, and significantly affect the day-to-day life of those living with these symptoms. Where our experts advise that treatment is available that may help clients who have been left with severe injury and long-term disability, we include the private cost of this treatment in any claim for compensation. If our clients' symptoms may alter over time or treatments are not required now but may be in ten years’ time, we will factor this into any claim for compensation.

Cervical cancer can also cause issues with the our client’s fertility, leaving many survivors requiring fertility treatment or unable to become pregnant. This can be devastating for young people affected by a delay in diagnosis of cervical cancer. Where our client is likely to need to undergo fertility  treatment, we include fertility related costs for treatment, such as IVF, as part of their claim for compensation.

Depending on the client’s injury, we may also ask a care expert to comment on any care requirements the individual may have. Some examples include the cost of employing a carer, having shopping delivered and/or employing a cleaner. For some, this may extend to assistance with their children, if their disability leaves them unable to carry out certain tasks for their children.  

We will also consider any out-of-pocket expenses which may have been incurred as a result of the negligence. These will range from travel costs to hospital appointments. The claim will also include  compensation for loss of earnings if the negligence has affected the client’s ability to work, either because they have had to reduce their working hours, either temporarily during the treatment period or permanently if there are ongoing symptoms. Home adaptations may be required to ensure that our client’s home is suitable for their disability, and we can claim compensation for these where appropriate.

We also consider the emotional and psychological impact that the delay in diagnosis of cervical cancer has had. If psychological treatment, such as counselling, is required we can claim the cost of our client’s private treatment. We also work alongside charities, such as Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust (Jo’s Trust) to make sure our clients can access additional support, alongside the help provided by any legal action.

If you or a family member have suffered serious injury as a result of delayed diagnosis of cancer, and you would like to find out more about making a claim, you can talk to one of our specialist medical negligence solicitors, free and confidentially by contacting us here.