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Cervical Cancer Misdiagnosis

Cervical Cancer Misdiagnosis Testing and Treatment in Ireland

Cervical Cancer is a cancer of the cells lining the cervix, which develops slowly and over a number of years. It first develops as abnormal cell changes, which are called precancerous, ultimately leading to cancer itself. These abnormal cells are called CIN (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia). These cells are not cancerous, but if left untreated may develop into cancer.

Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV virus).  HPV is a common virus transferred through sexual intercourse. Ongoing HPV infections can cause abnormal changes in the lining of your cervix. These changes, if left untreated, can lead to cervical cancer.


  • Blood spots or light bleeding between or following menstruation;
  • Menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual;
  • Bleeding after intercourse or pelvic examination;
  • Pain during sexual intercourse;
  • Bleeding after menopause;
  • Unexplained, persistent pelvic and/or back pain.


Due to the prevalence of cervical cancer, being the second most common female cancer in Europe, the Irish government funds Cervical Check, Ireland’s National Cervical Screening Programme which provides free smear tests to women between the ages of 25-65.

Screening involves a simple smear test which detects changes in the cells of the cervix. Once detected at an early stage, these cell changes can be closely monitored and treated, ultimately reducing and, in some cases, even preventing cancer. Such screening is internationally considered to be a preventative health measure, and is the most effective method of reducing the risk of a woman developing cervical cancer.

Cervical Cancer Misdiagnosis

Cervical Cancer Misdiagnosis 

Following the recent High Court action brought by Ms. Vicky Phelan, 43 year old mother of two who was misdiagnosed with cervical cancer and was not told of her terminal diagnosis until some three years later, the health and diagnosis of other women who underwent cervical screening in or around 2011 is now of concern.

HSE figures, released yesterday, indicated that in 206 cervical cancer cases in the country, the delay in cancer being detected suggests that these women missed out on early intervention. A number of these 206 women who developed cervical cancer, despite an earlier smear test showing they were all clear, have since died.

The HSE are currently reviewing the handling of the 206 women’s cases, after doubts emerged over how many had been advised of the results of their earlier smear tests. Further concerns were raised when Cervical Check could not clarify if all of the women involved had been contacted.


What is most concerning about the fact that some women may have been misdiagnosed, is that it has recently emerged that the Clinical Director of the national cervical cancer screening programme in Ireland, Dr. Grainne Flannelly,  had previously advised a Limerick gynaecologist to file some audited test results, rather than to tell women in certain cases that all-clear smear tests they had received years earlier were wrong. This private correspondence was before the High Court in the case taken by Vicky Phelan, and illustrates that the failure to advise patients of the incorrect test results may have in fact been a conscious omission on the part of a government-funded programme responsible for preventing and detecting one of the most aggressive terminal illnesses in women in Ireland.

Alan Kelly, Labour Health Spokesperson, has called for the Oireachtas Health Committee to meet next week to address the recent revelations about the cervical cancer screening programme. Mr. Kelly commented that “The revelations in the last few days about the Cervical Check service have been deeply shocking, and has caused huge concern for women across Ireland,”.

It was decided yesterday that a HSE Serious Incident Management Team (SIMT) would liaise with Cervical Check to ensure that all patients have been informed of the result of any review of their screening history.

The HSE has stated that clinical personnel across the country are reviewing relevant files relating to the 206 cases over the weekend with a view to providing assurance to the SIMT that all of the women involved have been contacted.

The Clinical Director of Cervical Check, Dr. Grainne Flannelly, announced yesterday that she is to step down from her position with immediate effect to allow the HSE’s SIMT Team to address and focus fully on the immediate concerns at hand.

The Health Minister, Simon Harris, advised that arrangements are now being put in place for any woman who has had a smear test, but who would like a repeat test to reassure them. He has confirmed that the State will meet the cost of repeat screening tests.

Further, a phone helpline was set up early yesterday to take the calls of women who have concerns about their screening tests, receiving up to approximately 570 calls by 4pm that same day.

Should you have concerns surrounding test results or misdiagnosis of you or a family member, please do not hesitate to contact our offices on 01-5313800 for a consultation with a member of our medical negligence team.

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