Smear Tests and Cervical Cancer Negligence

7 Min Read

Doctor testing blood

Sometimes, cervical cancer is diagnosed after smear tests come back clear or symptoms are missed. Being told you have cancer can be devastating – knowing signs were missed can the situation feel even worse.

If you, or a loved one, have received a late cervical cancer diagnosis that you believe could be a result of negligence, you may be eligible for cervical cancer compensation.

This article will detail what cervical cancer is and how it can sometimes be misdiagnosed, to help you understand if you could be owed compensation.

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is a form of cancer that is found in your cervix (the opening between the vagina and uterus). It forms when abnormal cells grow in an uncontrollable manner. These cells may eventually form a tumour. If not diagnosed in the early stages, the cancerous cells may spread into the surrounding tissues and advance to other areas of the body.

If you have just been diagnosed with cervical cancer, we understand you may have questions about your situation, especially if you feel mistakes were made in your care.

Cervical cancer statistics

Going through cervical cancer, or watching a loved one fight the disease, is an emotional and challenging time.

The disease is common, but treatments are advancing.

Can cervical cancer be misdiagnosed?

Yes, unfortunately cervical cancer may be misdiagnosed – including if there’s an inaccurate smear test.

It’s possible that a smear test may miss abnormal cells, due to the small sample of tissue taken, or the cancer may develop in a part of the cervix that the smear test cannot reach. Although most cancers develop in what is called the ‘transformation zone’ (the area tested) it can also develop deeper inside the cervix.

That said, regular smear tests can decrease your risk of developing cancer and are usually reliable. It is unusual to have several clear tests if there is cancer developing in the cervix.

Smear test mistakes and delays

We understand that receiving a cancer diagnosis is an incredibly difficult time for you and your loved ones. If you think you may have encountered cervical cancer negligence, for instance, if there were mistakes or delays in your treatment, Enable Law can help you to receive cervical cancer compensation.

How does cervical screening work in the UK?

Few women under the age of 25 develop cervical cancer, so screening is only offered to women once they reach this age in the UK. Once you turn 25, you should have tests every three years until you reach the age of 49.

After 50, it’s recommended that you have a smear test every five years – and sometimes less often after your 65th birthday.

Smear tests look for abnormal cells before they become cancerous. These pre-cancerous cells are called ‘dyskaryosis’[5]. In most cases, smear tests should find dyskaryosis before it becomes cancer. Sadly, there are some women whose smear tests are incorrectly reported, and this can lead to delays in their cancer being spotted.

How has the cervical screening process changed?

Before 2019, the cervical screening process involved cells from all screening samples being checked for abnormalities that may lead to cancer. Since December 2019, cervical screening first tests for the human papilloma virus (HPV) in the UK. This is because the chances of having abnormal cells without traces of the HPV virus is very low.

If the results show a high risk of HPV the sample will then be tested to look for any abnormal cell changes.

Spotting abnormal cells before cancer develops helps to prevent women from having to undergo difficult and unpleasant treatment for cancer – like surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy.

Although 99.7% of cervical cancer is due to HPV infection, there is a very slight risk that someone may test negative for HPV but still have abnormal cells that are not detected.

An example of how smear tests might miss cancer

Unfortunately, some women have suffered cervical cancer negligence with devastating consequences.

Vicky Phelan, a mother of two from Ireland, received an inaccurate smear test result. In 2011 she was told her smear test showed no abnormalities. After being diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer in 2014, it came to light that an audit of her 2011 test highlighted that the results were incorrect. Phelan was not told about these incorrect results for 15 months.

She settled a High Court case against the US laboratory, that carried out her cervical screening, for $2.5 million. After the settlement, it was found that over 200 other women diagnosed with cancer may have also missed out on medical intervention as a result of not being told the results of the audit.

Smaller-scale cervical negligence cases have happened in the UK, including within the NHS and private clinics. In 2018 we became part of the devastating story of Julie O’Connor, a nurse whose cervical cancer was consistently missed by Southmead Hospital for three years. Unfortunately, by the time it was diagnosed it was too late, and Julie sadly passed away in 2019. You can read more about her story here.

Can you claim compensation for cervical cancer negligence?

If you believe that you were misdiagnosed, you may be owed cervical cancer compensation.

Women can sometimes recover damages where their cancer has been diagnosed late because of mistakes. This type of claim is complicated, and it can help to have the right legal advice. Enable Law’s experienced team of specialists have the skills needed to claim cervical cancer negligence compensation, and they work hard to get a result that can help to improve the situation for you and your family.

Read more about gynaecology negligence claims or contact us to discuss your situation. We may also be able to help if you think you have faced surgical negligence as part of your cervical cancer treatment.

Cervical cancer compensation: Key questions

How much compensation could I be owed for a delayed diagnosis?

It’s hard to predict how much cervical cancer compensation could be owed as it depends entirely on the individual circumstances – every negligence case is different. It also depends on the severity of your condition, and how much the negligence now impacts your everyday life. But total compensation for a claim could amount to .

What can I expect after a cervical cancer diagnosis?

After you receive a cervical cancer diagnosis, your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you. They will check your general health and undergo tests to see whether the cervical cancer has spread. Depending on the stage of the cancer, they may suggest treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

What are the symptoms of early-stage cervical cancer?

The main symptoms of cervical cancer include unusual vaginal bleeding, sometimes before or after sex or between periods, pain during intercourse, differences in vaginal discharge and pain in your lower back, pelvis or lower tummy. If you have any of these symptoms, the first step is to consult a doctor – if you feel symptoms were missed or recognition was delayed, a specialist law firm may help you to get compensation.