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Delay in treating a cancerous tumour leaves woman with two years to live

After several appointments for a mammogram were cancelled, a woman now has fast-growing stage-four breast cancer.

Caroline Boulton, 56, was unable to attend two scheduled mammogram appointments as they were cancelled due to Covid-19 in March and November 2020. However, a year later, she found a small lump in her breast.

After seeing her GP, she was referred urgently to a specialist and, although she received her referral letter quickly, she has experienced delays with her treatment ever since. Ms Boulton had to wait three weeks rather than the recommended two weeks to see a consultant.

When she first discovered the lump, she says it was pea-sized but, by the time she finally got to see a consultant, it was the size of a tangerine as the cancer was growing quickly.

If Ms Boulton had had her mammogram appointment as originally scheduled, which checks for early signs of cancer, it is likely something would have been spotted at this stage. Although a mastectomy was required, she was told it would be at least eight weeks before the operation could be scheduled to remove her breast.

Two years after her first cancelled mammogram and seven months after finding the lump when she saw an oncologist, another scan found the cancer had spread to her liver and there was no longer any treatment they could offer her. Ms Boulton was told she had stage-four cancer and had just two years to live.

Lesley Herbertson, Partner in clinical negligence at Potter Rees Dolan, said:

It is devastating for all concerned when individuals, who have a potentially treatable condition, are faced with an extremely poor prognosis because they were not able to access the investigations and treatment they required quickly enough. There are crippling systemic pressures on the NHS but it remains the case that the more resources that can be allocated to early diagnosis and treatment, the greater the savings in terms of longer term treatment, rehabilitation and lives.

BBC Newsnight published figures leaked to the Health Service Journal which say:

  • 327,395 people are on England's cancer waiting list
  • nearly 40,000 have been waiting more than 62 days after a GP referral for suspected cancer
  • the number waiting more than 104 days, has doubled since June 2021, to over 10,000

Lesley Herbertson is a Partner within Potter Rees Dolan's Clinical Negligence department. If you have any questions relating to this story or clinical negligence generally and wish to speak with Lesley, please call our free phone on 0800 027 2557. Alternatively, you can contact Lesley directly through her profile page on our website.

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