Gloucester mum diagnosed with cervical cancer speaks out against smear test changes

  • Watch Claire Dunford discuss her cervical cancer diagnosis

A mum from Gloucester who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cervical cancer has spoken out against changes to smear test guidelines.

The time between screenings will now be extended to five years in Scotland and Wales for people under 50 who do not have Human papillomavirus (HPV) cells found at their last screening - and some have concerns that the same could happen in England.

In April last year, Claire Dunford was diagnosed with stage three cervical cancer. She had had regular check-ups during pregnancy and a smear test three years prior - as is recommended for people in her age group - which showed a healthy cervix.

It was when she took a trip to the GP after noticing some abnormal bleeding - thinking at first it was just hormonal changes after giving birth - that her doctor saw that the bleeding was coming from her cervix, so she was sent for further tests.

"Fast forward a month later and I had a five centimetre tumour which was growing extremely aggressively", she said.

"It had spread to my pelvic lymph nodes and was starting to spread outside of my cervix," she added.

Claire went through seven weeks of intense treatment including chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

She said: "Had it not been picked up when it was, I wouldn't be stood here being able to speak, being able to be a mum to my little boy and a partner to my other half.

"My dad would've lost his daughter as well as his wife and it doesn't bear thinking about."

Why are smear tests changing in Scotland and Wales?

The UK National screening committee recommended the changes in time-scale because of a change in the smear test.

Samples taken from the cervix are now tested for HPV, the human papillomavirus, which causes virtually all cases of cervical cancer and can be detected long before any abnormal cells.

So if a person tests negative for HPV, that person is classed as very low risk and are will not need to test again for another five years, but if HPV is present, that person will be invited back sooner for further tests.

But Claire thinks this could prevent many cases of cervical cancer from being detected.

"My smear years prior was completely normal and completely clear. So under the new guidelines, I'd be classed as low risk", she said.

"Essentially had I not shown symptoms when I did, or the smear test had been in five years, my son just wouldn't have a mummy anymore", she said.

Karis Betts, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, says the new way of testing is far more accurate

A petition against the changing of frequency of the test has gone viral - attracting more than 1 million signatures.

Karis Betts, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, says the new way of testing is better as she says it is far more accurate.

"All the scientific evidence tells us that doing cervical screening this way round saves more lives than how we were doing it previously", she said.

"Because doing the HPV primary test - looking at the infection first before the cells, is a much better way of predicting risk. We're more able to see who needs treatment and who doesn't."