Vulva Cancer – rare but preventable?

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted on Monday, November 21st, 2016
We acted for Mrs S who is 54 years of age when she was diagnosed with cancer of the vulva - a very rare form of cancer affecting only 90 patients per annum, the vast majority of which are over the age of 60 years.

Mrs S was devastated when she was advised that her condition was only treatable by a radical vulvectomy (essentially complete removal of the vagina leaving an area of flat skin encompassing a tiny hole) followed by chemo-radiotherapy.

In addition to obvious physical injury and body mutilation Mrs S suffered vascular and bowel damage from the chemo radiotherapy and serious psychological injury. Fortunately she survived the cancer and is expecting to be discharged from her oncology care later this year.

Vulva cancer is a rare condition but it can be prevented by appropriate treatment of pre-cancerous cells within the skin of the vulva. This pre-cancerous condition is called VIN (vulva intra-epithelial neoplasia). It is very important that this pre-cancerous condition is diagnosed early so that treatment with a view to preventing vulva cancer can be commenced. Symptoms of VIN include vaginal itching, soreness, painful intercourse, discharge and white coloured lesions. Not all of these symptoms may occur. The difficulty is that these symptoms are also often present in relatively harmless conditions such as thrush, making diagnosis of VIN difficult.

In Mrs S’ case she suffered from intense and persistent symptoms of itchiness within the vulva skin along with painful intercourse and soreness of the area for six years prior to her diagnosis of vulva cancer. She returned to her GP and the local hospital repeatedly during this time.

Mrs S initially underwent a biopsy but despite the treating clinician requesting that the biopsy should be taken from the anterior part of her vulva it was actually taken from the posterior area. The results were therefore negative and continued to be relied upon by her doctors despite no biopsy having been taken from the correct part of her vulva.

Mrs S’ symptoms of itchiness and pain in her vulva continued for another five years but her concerns were not taken seriously by the hospital doctors. When she was finally diagnosed as suffering from vulva cancer it was too late to do anything other than treat her by a radical vulvectomy and chemo-radiotherapy.

Our medical expert gynaecologist advised that Mrs S was suffering from the pre-cancerous condition, VIN, since her original biopsy. Had this biopsy been taken from the correct part of the vulva and/or another biopsy undertaken during one of the subsequent hospital appointments then VIN would have been diagnosed and treated before the condition developed into cancer.

Sadly despite obvious failings in care the Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust denied liability in this case. However one month before Trial we were pleased to be able to settle the claim for damages of a significant six figure sum. Mrs S was delighted with the settlement and very relieved that after a long and difficult period of time she can now try to move on with her life. Her Solicitor, Partner Madeline Seibert comments "Mrs S was unable to return to work due to her severe injuries and as a result of this she suffered from financial difficulties. Her compensation therefore goes some way to place her back into the financial position that she would have been in but for the failings in her medical care . It will also help her to pay for much needed rehabilitation and domestic assistance and support." Mrs S wishes to raise awareness about her condition of vulva cancer in the hope that she may help someone else going through what she has suffered.

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