Cervical cancer: Woman given 'false reassurance' by smear test speaks out after diagnosis

Shona Clark from Ashington developed cervical cancer three years after a smear test was incorrectly classed as negative. Credit: Irwin Mitchell

A woman who developed cervical cancer after her smear test was incorrectly marked as normal has received a hospital apology and payout.

Shona Clark was diagnosed with the disease three years after undergoing a routine smear test in 2015. The result was recorded as negative but should have highlighted borderline changes.

The 45-year-old from Ashington underwent a hysterectomy as well as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy to remove the tumour.

If Mrs Clark's smear test result had not been incorrectly classed as negative, on the balance of probabilities, she would not have developed cervical cancer and would not have had to undergo cancer treatment, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust acknowledged.

She is now in remission but still struggles to work part-time as an account manager because of her ongoing symptoms connected to her treatment.

Mrs Clark has since received an apology from the trust and an undisclosed settlement. She hopes by speaking out she can help other people in her position.

Shona Clark is now in remission but still has some day to day struggles. Credit: Irwin Mitchell

“Nothing can ever prepare you for the words ‘you have cancer’," she said. "When my cycle changed in 2018 and I started with bad headaches, I knew something wasn’t right but I didn’t expect it to be cancer because of my previous smear test result. I was falsely reassured by that result.

“Trying to come to terms with my diagnosis, treatment and my future was a whirlwind of emotions. One of the hardest things was the gruelling treatment I had. I had chemotherapy for 11 hours every Monday. This lasted for five weeks and it totally wiped me out.

“The brachytherapy was also extremely painful and 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. But now I’m a lot more reserved and I’ve been left with anxiety, low moods and fatigue. I’d go to the gym three times a week or go out shopping or meet friends. I tried to return to the gym but I struggled because of the ongoing aches and pains so had to give it up.

“I’ll always be upset at what happened to me especially because I probably wouldn’t have had to go through a lot of what I have if my test result as recorded properly.

“However, despite everything, in some respects I feel fortunate as sadly others don’t survive cervical cancer.

“I know I still face many challenges ahead to get more of my old life back, but I now want to try and put the last few years behind me and focus on the future.

“I just hope that by speaking out I can help others. Despite what happened to me women still need to attend smear tests. Those with cancer shouldn’t feel they have to go through it alone as help and support is available.”

Shona Clark with her husband Ken. Credit: Irwin Mitchell

Newcastle Hospitals Trust admitted that they had made a mistake with her care and apologised to Mrs Clark what happened.

A statement from the 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.”

Rebecca Pearey, the expert specialist medical negligence expert at Irwin Mitchell, said: "This settlement will now ensure Shona can continue her recovery and access the specialist support she needs to try and look to the future the best she can.

“However, through our work we sadly see the impact that cancer can have. While we urge the trust to learn lessons from this case, it’s also vital that people continue to participate in screening programmes or seek medical advice as soon as possible if they’re concerned they may have cancer."

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