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Gynaecological symptoms: making concerns heard

Posted: 10/12/2020

The clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches Cooper represents women with gynaecological claims and often hears from clients that they wish they had listened to their bodies sooner and pushed for a referral for medical investigations.

For example, some women suffer with extremely severe period pain - sometimes so badly that it stops them from being able to function effectively day-to-day. These women may feel there is a stigma around talking about their discomfort, particularly within a work setting, but the pain is something potentially very significant and absolutely justifies medical investigation. Some clients reported that they had spoken to their GP about their period pain, sometimes on multiple occasions, but were often simply prescribed progressively stronger painkillers or were made to feel that their concerns were not appreciated or valid. Suffering with debilitating period pain is difficult enough, but in certain cases, these symptoms can be a sign of something more serious.

The team is aware of one woman who pressed her GP for more help after being told that she couldn’t have a smear test until her next routine test was due, which was to be many months later. The woman was very worried about her extreme period pain and therefore continued to request further action from her GP, who then agreed to refer her for a colposcopy (an internal examination of the cervix using a speculum) on the basis that her symptoms were potentially consistent with endometriosis. Usually colposcopies are conducted after an abnormal smear test, but the woman in this case had a history of clear smear test results. She underwent the colposcopy, which she described as uncomfortable but otherwise tolerable, and received a letter a week later asking her to come back to hospital for her colposcopy results. Upon her return to hospital, she was told that she had cervical cancer.

This woman had cervical cancer despite having always had clear smear test results. This is unusual, but not unheard of. She had a relatively rare form of cervical cancer called adenocarcinoma, which accounts for less than 10% of cervical cancers. Squamous carcinoma is far more common, accounting for approximately 80% of cervical cancer diagnoses, and is generally picked up on smear tests. Adenocarcinomas are far harder to detect on smear tests as they develop within the cervical canal rather than outside the cervix.

Thankfully, this woman’s diagnosis was made at a time when the cancerous tissue was still localised and had not spread, so could be treated successfully with surgery - leaving her with an excellent prognosis. However, had she not pressed her GP for further investigation when she did, this may not have been the case at all.

Alison Johnson, partner in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches Cooper, comments: “I urge all women with such concerns to speak to their GP and, if they still feel worried after that initial consultation, to go back again and to ask for further investigation. Please make yourself heard as your gut instinct is often correct. Hopefully gynaecological symptoms can be treated easily, but if the symptoms are related to another illness including potentially a gynaecological cancer, early diagnosis and treatment is paramount.”

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