A woman in Scotland died from cervical cancer after she was wrongly excluded from the smear test programme, a new report has concluded. The unnamed woman had undergone a hysterectomy, which mistakenly left her on a list of people who didn't need to be screened, and she went on to develop the cancer.
The tragic error has come to light as a result of a routine audit of cervical cancer data over the past 24 years, which uncovered that 430 women were wrongly left off the list for smear tests. The mistake arose because of a wrong assumption that women who have hysterectomies do not require a cervical screening as they no longer have a cervix. In reality, however, some hysterectomies do not remove all of the cervix, and these women should still be invited for routine smear tests.
An assessment of the data found that five of the women who weren't included in the health scheme went on to develop cervical cancer, and one died. All the people affected my the mistake have now been written to, say the Scottish Government, who have apologised profusely for the fatal error.
"I want to offer my condolences to the family of the woman who we now know died from cervical cancer after being excluded from the screening programme," Sky News reports Maree Todd, Scotland's women's health minister, said in a statement.
"These exclusions from the cervical screening programme should not have happened and I want to apologise to all those affected by this error. I offer my heartfelt apologies in particular to the women who were excluded from the programme who went on to develop cancer, and to their families."
While the women involved in this situation missed out on smear tests through no fault of their own, the case still serves as an important reminder of just how vital it is to attend cervical screenings when you're invited. In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, women are invited for a smear test every three years from the age of 25, through to the age of 49, when they then revert to a five-yearly check up. In Scotland, cervical screenings take place every five years as standard for over-25s.
Research conducted by Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust in 2019 found that 81% of women said they either delayed or didn't go to their cervical screenings because they were embarrassed about the procedure. We know many people have also been put off going for a smear test due to the coronavirus pandemic. While some women, for example survivors of sexual assault, have understandable traumatic associations with such a procedure, it's worrying that so many might swerve a potentially life-saving screening because they're nervous about the intimate nature of it.
If you're concerned about feeling embarrassed in a smear test, read this valuable advice to put your mind at ease.
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