Breast cancer should have been detected 17 months earlier, court told

Joan O’Sullivan (50) claims delays may have reduced her life expectancy

Joan O’Sullivan (50) is suing St James’s Hospital in Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson

Joan O’Sullivan (50) is suing St James’s Hospital in Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson


A woman who believes the detection of her breast cancer came about 17 months later than it should have is suing for damages in the High Court over the care she received at two hospitals.

Joan O’Sullivan (50) claims she suffered delay in diagnosis and treatment of her cancer and, as a result, her life expectancy may have been reduced. The 50-year-old has a mutation gene that means she is at higher risk of cancer, and has lost extended family members to cancer.

Ms O’Sullivan is suing St James’s Hospital in Dublin, claiming she suffered perforation to her bowel during an operation in 2013, which was part of a cancer prevention plan. As a result, she claims plans for a preventative full mastectomy were derailed.

She has also taken an action against the HSE over her care at Cork University Hospital (CUH), where she claims an 8mm tumour in her right breast was not diagnosed when she had a scan in 2016. She claims, when the tumour was diagnosed 522 days later, it was 3cm in size.

Mr Justice Michael Hanna heard Ms O’Sullivan has since had 20 weeks of chemotherapy and has had a right-side mastectomy.

In her action against St James’s, Ms O’Sullivan, a mother of two from McDonagh Court, Old Road, Cashel, Co Tipperary, claims in relation to the 2013 procedure that there was a failure to exercise reasonable care and skill and that her bowel was perforated.

She claims the HSE failed to identify or to heed adequately, or at all, a significant abnormality in an MRI scan carried out in CUH in April 2016. She also alleges delayed diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer in her right breast.

Mr Justice Hanna was told St James’s Hospital and the HSE deny the claims but the HSE had, in a letter this week, admitted a breach of duty in relation to some of the care afforded at CUH.

Higher risk

Patrick Treacy SC, for Ms O’Sullivan, said she was diagnosed as a carrier of the BRCA1 mutation gene, which means the person has a higher risk of ovarian and breast cancer.

He said it was decided that she would have a procedure at St James’s as an outpatient on March 6th, 2013, to remove her ovaries and Fallopian tubes and a double mastectomy was expected to be carried out in autumn 2013.

However, he said “tragically and unfortunately”, a “simple and profound error” was made. It was their case a perforation of Ms O’Sullivan’s bowel took place during suturing after the procedure, the alleged perforation should not have happened and the post-op care fell below the standard of the hospital.

Mr Treacy said Ms O’Sullivan was discharged when she was in significant pain and was admitted days later to another hospital and told she had sepsis and E.coli and had to have another operation. Plans for the double mastectomy in autumn 2013 were derailed as a result of Ms O’Sullivan not being well.

She was then diagnosed with cancer in the right breast on October 19th, 2017. If Ms O’Sullivan had had a mastectomy in autumn 2013, she would never have developed the two lumps in her right breast, counsel said.

She had a MRI scan at CUH on April 29th, 2016 and their case was, on this occasion when a 8mm wide tumour was present in her right breast, there was no biopsy. When she next had a scan in October 2017, the tumour was 3cm and was the “worst”, “most aggressive” and “most severe” cancer, he said. Their case was that this cancer should have been detected 522 days earlier.

The case continues.