CervicalCheck woman ‘wrongly included’ in 221 group

Julie O’Reilly had endometrial cancer not cervical cancer, according to health sources

Julie O’Reilly, the 60-year-old woman originally from the Isle of Man who died of cancer last month, was wrongly included as one of the 221 women caught up in the CervicalCheck controversy, according to health sources.

Ms O’Reilly, who was the 19th of the 20 women caught up in the CervicalCheck controversy to die, was included in the group of women contacted by the HSE last spring. She had received five smear tests under the programme between 2009 and 2013, and was diagnosed with cancer in 2017.

Last summer, she and her husband Tony received an apology from the HSE after it was found the results of an audit of her smear tests had not been communicated to them. Four of these tests, on review, showed evidence of a high-grade abnormality. Mr O'Reilly told his wife's story in The Irish Times last week.

Last Wednesday, HSE acting head of CervicalCheck Damien McCallion told the Oireachtas health committee that two of the women in the 221 group did not have cancer, and two others had a form of cancer other than cervical cancer.


The HSE declined to say during the week what other forms of cancer the two women had.

However, informed sources say Ms O’Reilly was one of the two women included in the 221 group who did not have cervical cancer.

While cancer was in her womb, it was in her endometrium (lining) rather than the cervix (neck), according to sources. Endometrial cancer is different from cervical cancer and is diagnosed differently.

Smear testing is used to screen for cervical cancer, while endometrial cancer is usually diagnosed from symptoms such as vaginal bleeding.

Smear test

A smear test, while not designed to detect endometrial cancer, may occasionally pick up problems originating in the endometrium. Endometrial cancer can travel to the cervix but the commonly-used pap smear for cervical cancer is not designed to pick this up.

Mr O’Reilly’s solicitor Can O’Carroll said on Friday that by February 2017 Julie O’Reilly’s cancer had spread to her knee so she was diagnosed with bone cancer but her primary cancer was endometrial “extending into the cervix”.*

Mr O’Carroll agreed that smear tests were not designed to detect endometrial cancer but added that the test could result in endometrial cancer being picked up. This happened in up to 10 per cent of cases, he maintained.

Mr O’Carroll said he had expert medical opinion that Ms O’Reilly’s death was a consequence of errors made in the reading of her smear tests.

Mr O’Reilly was “very upset” at the suggestion that he was being unreasonable in believing his wife had been let down by the health service, the solicitor added.

While clinicians sought to have the cases of the four women who did not have cervical cancer removed from the 221 grouping, this did not happen and it remains the case that they are part of the group.

Members of the 221 group qualify for supports such as medical cards, payment of expenses, access to treatments and counselling.

About 450-500 cases of endometrial cancer are detected in Ireland each year, but the disease is highly treatable if caught early.

* This article was amended on November 23rd

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.