Woman diagnosed with incurable stage four cancer after doctors said symptoms were IBS
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A woman has revealed her horror of being diagnosed with incurable stage four cancer after being told by doctors her symptoms were down to irritable bowel syndrome.
Claire O’Shea, 40, had been trying to raise symptoms to her GP for almost two years, having first discovered a lump in her abdomen in August 2021.
She was prescribed medication for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but when a masseuse asked if she was pregnant, O’Shea began to worry something more sinister was wrong.
"I think there was an opportunity for the GP to have spotted it sooner," O’Shea told ITV News.
"Reading about the symptoms I was presenting with, like constipation sometimes, bloating, discomfort, they're symptoms of lots of different gynaecological cancers, and that should have been a red flag for anyone."
O’Shea was eventually referred to the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff for an ultrasound in February 2022, claiming specialists downgraded the suspected cancer to a fibroid.
After surgery to remove the lump in September, a biopsy revealed she had sarcoma, a rare type of cancerous tumour in her uterus.
"It's particularly devastating because it's such an aggressive cancer, it's really, really aggressive,” O’Shea continued.
"If it gets caught early then prognosis is okay-ish, if it's caught late then the prognosis is awful - it's like 14% of people survive up to five years, and I knew already that I'd been battling already for around two years."
Within three weeks of her devastating diagnosis, O’Shea underwent a total hysterectomy.
She now believes she had been met with a ‘catalogue of small errors at every turn’, saying her surgery had been ‘months in the waiting while the cancer was growing’ amid ongoing pressures on the NHS.
"It's systemic, it's a problem with attitudes, particularly in primary care towards women and being told either you accept pain, or I felt a bit neurotic, like it was 'she's got nothing more to worry about than an upset stomach', and it was obviously much worse than that,” she said.
O’Shea is now due to start chemotherapy after being referred to a sarcoma consultant at Velindre Cancer Centre, a specialist facility in Cardiff, and is due to start chemotherapy.
"I understand the complexities of running a massive system, that you can't afford to treat everyone with urgency, but I wish I'd been listened to earlier because I think if I'd been diagnosed at my first appointment with the GP I would've saved myself months and I might have just had a fibroid removed,” she added.
"I feel really lucky, which sounds ridiculous given the circumstances, but I am articulate, I do have a university degree, I have been brought up by a family where we talk about our bodies and health.
"I think about all the women who don't have the privilege or confidence that I have to self-advocate.”
O’Shea has shared her experience as part of a Senedd inquiry into the experiences of women with gynaecological cancer, which is the fourth most common cause of cancer death among women in Wales.
In response to O’Shea’s claims, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said it is unable to comment on individual cases, with a spokesperson saying: "We would ask Claire to contact our concerns team where they will be happy to discuss any concerns she has around her care."
Tyla has reached out to Cardiff and Vale University Health Board for further comment.