Woman from Ashington diagnosed with cervical cancer after smear test wrongly recorded as clear

Shona Clark underwent a hysterectomy and chemotherapy among other treatments for cervical cancer

A woman from Northumberland is calling for lessons to be learned after developing cervical cancer when her smear test was incorrectly classed as clear.

Shona Clark, from Ashington, was diagnosed with the disease three years after undergoing a routine smear test. The result was recorded as negative but should have highlighted borderlines changes.

Following her diagnosis, the 44-year-old underwent a hysterectomy as well as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy - where radiation is administered directly next to the tumour.

Shona said: “I’d always attended routine smears and had no reason to think anything other than what the results said.

"Then in early 2018 my cycle changed. It became shorter and I also started suffering with really bad headaches.

“I knew something wasn’t right but it still came as a huge shock when I was told I had cancer."

Shona now has check-ups every three months to monitor whether the cancer has returned Credit: NCJ Media

Shona had previously had an abnormal smear result in 1998. She attended a routine four-yearly screening appointment in 2015. By early 2018 her periods had changed and her bleeding had become heavier.

She sought medical advice for her symptoms and during a gynaecology appointment in August 2018 doctors suspected she might have had cervical cancer.

After her diagnosis Shona underwent cancer treatment. The treatment did not remove her tumour so she had surgery in May 2019.

“The treatment was really difficult," said Shona. "I had chemotherapy every Monday for five weeks which lasted for around 11 hours and which I found very draining.

“The brachytherapy was extremely uncomfortable and painful. Since my treatment I’ve been left with burns on my skin and experience significant pain in all of my joints.

"I used to be confident and enjoy going out. I would go to the gym three times a week or go out shopping or meet friends. However, because of the ongoing pain I can’t go to the gym and do almost all of my shopping online as I can’t carry bags."

Shona now has check-ups every three months to monitor whether the cancer has returned.

Shona Clark rings the bell at the end of treatment for cervical cancer

She instructed expert medical negligence lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate her experience and Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which was responsible for examining her test result, admitted a breach of duty.

It admitted that had the result been accurately reported as showing borderline changes, tests to check for HPV (human papillomavirus) would have been carried out. If this was positive Shona would have been referred to doctors.

If Shona’s smear test result had not been classed as negative, on the balance of probabilities, she would not have developed cervical cancer and she would not have had to undergo cancer treatment, the trust acknowledged.

Rebecca Pearey, a specialist medical negligence expert at Irwin Mitchell, representing Shona, said: “Shona and her family have suffered an incredibly tough few years as they tried to come to terms with her diagnosis and the physical and emotional impact it has had.

“Understandably Shona has a number of concerns about her diagnosis. While nothing can make up for her ordeal we’re pleased that we have at least been able to provide her with the answers she deserved.

“Through our work we sadly see the impact that cancer can have. While it’s vital that lessons are learned from Shona’s case to improve patient safety, it’s also important that people continue to attend cancer screening appointments. Early detection and treatment is key to beating cancer.”

'Cervical Cancer Prevention Week'

Shona, an account manager, and her legal team are supporting Cervical Cancer Prevention Week - which runs until Sunday, January 23.

She's calling on people to attend regular smear tests.

Shona said: “The hardest thing to try and accept is that if my test had been recorded accurately I probably wouldn’t have had to go through a lot of what I have.

“Even though my result was misreported it’s vital that women attend regular smears. I just hope that by sharing my story I can help others and show that support is available.”

A spokesperson for The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We can confirm Ms Clark’s smear test was incorrectly classed as negative in 2015 and we sincerely apologise for any shortcomings in her care and treatment as a result.”

For more information about Cervical Cancer Prevention Week visit the Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust website.