Sunday 22 September 2019

‘News of this audit shocked me more than my cancer’ - woman who had two misinterpreted smear tests

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Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

An Irish woman diagnosed with cervical cancer after receiving two all-clear smear tests said she was more shocked by the results of her CervicalCheck audit than her cancer diagnosis.

In a case with stark similarities to Vicky Phelan’s, Orla received false results in 2011 and again in 2014.

But by 2015 Orla, who wishes to remain anonymous, was experiencing symptoms that would be indicative of cervical cancer.

“I had pelvic pain and was living on painkillers,” she said.

On May 30, 2016, she visited a private gynaecologist who immediately identified a large tumour, and referred her to Dr Thomas Walsh in the Mater Hospital the following day.

Her positive CervicalCheck smear results delayed the identification of cancer as everyone “had faith in the system”. However, after Orla was diagnosed with cancer, she and her consultant went back to CervicalCheck and insisted the earlier tests were rechecked. They found they showed abnormal cells.

“It took nine or 10 months to get the results. I was having lunch with my family when I got them.”

Orla, who first spoke out on Joe Duffy’s ‘Liveline’, didn’t think the abnormal cells would show in the CervicalCheck test as she had adenocarcinoma cancer which is internal, and not as easily detectable – an issue she raised with CervicalCheck.

“But the review showed abnormal cells in both smears in 2011, and 2014. I was completely stunned.

“I was more shocked seeing the results of the audit than I was when I heard of my cancer diagnosis.”

Orla has found the past few days highly distressing and tumultuous as the crisis continues to “get worse day by day, hour by hour”.

She is unsure if she is part of the 208 cohort of women identified by the HSE. She has yet to receive a call.

She wants the HSE to acknowledge this has been a “systematic error and failure” of the system “rather than a statistical blip”.

Health Minister Simon Harris said every woman who had has a smear test can have a recheck if they choose.

“What is the point in more tests?” she asked.

“We need a combined HPV virus test and cervical smear test to identify risks ... until then why would you bother?”

CervicalCheck is meant to be bringing in this methodology of testing later this year.

By the time Orla received the results of her audit, she had been diagnosed with stage 2B adenocarcinoma and had embarked on treatment including radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and brachytherapy.

She completed treatment in October 2016 and was given the all-clear in June 2017.

However, Orla relapsed in September 2017, and was hospitalised in October with cellulitis and lymphedema, bacterial infections and inflammations that can be a side effect of radiotherapy.

She underwent a lymphadenectomy earlier this year and is waiting for a pep scan this Thursday.

Orla is now proceeding with legal action.

The director general of the HSE, Tony O’Brien, emphasised the success of cervical screening in Ireland.

He described how 50,000 women have been detected with pre-cancerous cells since the programme started, and how the incidence of cervical cancer has reduced by approximately 7pc.

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