Woman alleges life ‘devastated’ by failure to diagnose cervical cancer

High Court hears mother, aged in her 40s, has 12 to 22 months to live due to disease

A woman who is seriously ill with cancer has begun a High Court action over the alleged misinterpretation of her smear slide taken under the CervicalCheck screening programme. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

A woman who is seriously ill with cancer has begun a High Court action over the alleged misinterpretation of her smear slide taken under the CervicalCheck screening programme. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

 

A woman who is terminally ill with cancer and is suing over the alleged misinterpretation of a smear slide, has told the High Court she never thought for a second that she had cervical cancer because she had no signs or symptoms.

The mother-of-two, who was told just a few days before Christmas 2015 that she had the disease, said she was crying as she put her children’s presents under the Christmas tree on December 24th, 2015.

“I was crying. I did not know what was ahead of me,” she told Mr Justice Kevin Cross. “It came as a shock to me. I had no symptoms of anything being wrong. I never thought for one second I have cervical cancer.”

The woman, who cannot be identified by order of the court, said she learned of the diagnosis after asking a nurse, who had phoned her asking her to come to a consultant’s office, if she had cancer.

She said the nurse told her: ‘I’m afraid you do.’

The court heard the woman now has Stage 4 cancer, has had palliative chemotherapy and is expected to live for between 12 and 22 months.

The woman and her husband have sued the HSE and three laboratory companies, including one in Austin, Texas, which tested her cervical smear slide in 2010 and reported it as negative.

‘Devastated’

The woman’s counsel Patrick Treacy SC said his client’s life has been “devastated” in every respect. He said the “rubicon moment” came last September when the woman was told her cancer was inoperable. She has since taken a new drug which cleared her lung and reduced her pelvic cancer but she does not now “feel right in herself” and requires another scan.

Mr Treacy said the “real tragedy” was that had her 2010 smear test been correctly reported, she would have had an investigative procedure and been treated appropriately.

Their case was that a pre-cancerous lesion could have been excised and there was, at that stage, a 95 per cent chance of a cure and a less than a 1 per cent chance of the cancer developing.

In September 2017, the woman was diagnosed as having a recurrence of the cancer and had radical chemotherapy. She had a further relapse last April and by August had secondary cancer in her lungs.

The couple have sued the HSE and two companies which provided medical diagnostic services here — Sonic Healthcare (Ireland) Ltd and Medlab Pathology Ltd, both with offices at Sandyford Business Park, Dublin — along with US laboratory Clinical Pathology Laboratories Incorporated of Austin, Texas.

Duty of care

It is claimed they all owed the woman a duty of care in the provision of the cervical screening programme and in the provision of all services associated with it.

The woman underwent a cervical smear test on September 17th, 2010 as part of the national cervical screening programme. Her sample was sent for review and a laboratory report showed the sample was satisfactory for assessment and there was no evidence of the presence of abnormal tissue.

It is claimed there was an alleged failure to correctly report and diagnose and misinterpretation of the 2010 slide and that her cancer was allowed to develop and spread unidentified, unmonitored and untreated until she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in December 2015.

It is further alleged there was a failure to report the smear sample was inadequate for assessment and that the woman was deprived of the opportunity of treatment at a time when, it is claimed, the disease was amenable to curative treatment. The woman’s life expectancy, it is claimed, has been permitted to be significantly reduced. The claims are denied.

The case continues.