Young mother has months to live after smear test missed cancer

A 43-year-old mother of two who has terminal cervical cancer has launched a High Court action after it emerged the result of a smear test seven years ago – which showed no abnormalities – was later found to be incorrect.

Vicky Phelan’s counsel told the court if her cancer had been detected in 2011 when she had the smear test the young mother could have had a simple procedure and a 90pc chance she could have been cured.

Jeremy Maher SC said experts on the Phelan side will say she would not have developed invasive cancer and would have survived into her 80s, but the cancer is terminal.

“On January 29 this year Ms Phelan was given between six months and 12 months to live,” counsel said. “She should have another 40 years to look forward to but she has a couple of months.”

He said Ms Phelan, who has recently started using a new drug, has not given up and is hoping to be accepted on a US programme offering radical innovative treatment.

Ms Phelan, a university educational manager of Carrigeen, Annacotty, Co Limerick, along with her husband Jim Phelan, has sued the HSE and Clinical Pathological Laboratories Inc, Austin, Texas, over a test taken under the national cervical screening programme CervicalCheck and analysed in the US laboratory. The test of May 24, 2011, showed no abnormality and Ms Phelan was advised by letter in June 2011.

She had another test in June 2014 and when it was sent for analysis it showed a high grade lesion and Ms Phelan was referred to a consultant.

In July of that year Ms Phelan was diagnosed with cervical cancer and underwent radical chemoradiotherapy.

It is claimed that subsequent to her cancer diagnosis and unknown to her, a review was carried out of previous smear tests from women who had a cancer diagnosis

A review of the May 2011 sample showed the original report in relation to the smear was incorrect. In September 2017, Ms Phelan was advised of the review and in November she was diagnosed with an incurable stage four cancer.

It is claimed the alleged failure to diagnose the 2011 sample caused a situation whereby Ms Phelan’s cancer was allowed to develop and spread until she was diagnosed in July 2014. The claims are denied.


Opening the case, Mr Maher said an expert on their side will say there were plentiful abnormal cells in the 2011 smear sample and the failure to identify them allegedly amounted to a clear breach of duty.

In evidence Ms Phelan told of her anger that it was three years before she was told the review had found the smear test showing no abnormalities was incorrect.

She said her first reaction on hearing that the information had been available was there had been a cover up.

“If I was told sooner, I would not be in the position of a terminal cancer diagnosis,” she said. “I am very angry about it.”

Ms Phelan said if she knew of the result of the review when it was carried out, she would have asked for more scans.

The case continues.

© Irish Independent

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