Young Woman Died of Cervical Cancer After Being Misdiagnosed for Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Hormone Issues

27-year-old event manager, Porsche McGregor-Sims died on April 14, 2020, months after a locum gynaecologist mistook her aggressive cancer symptoms for those of irritable bowel syndrome or a hormonal issue

The area coroner Rosamund Rhodes-Kemp said the case was one of the most “shocking and traumatic” she had come across. 

The timeline of events

  • In 2017 the aspiring model underwent her first smear test, which showed abnormal cells but no signs of any cancerous cells. No action was taken then. However, her symptoms continued to worsen.
  • In December 2019, Ms McGregor-Sims’ GP referred her to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth after she complained of vaginal bleeding and abdominal pains. She was not seen until early 2020.
  • On January 24, 2020, a locum gynaecologist, Dr Peter Schlesinger, saw Ms McGregor-Sims but failed to appreciate her symptoms being similar to those of cervical cancer. He noted that the pain was either due to endometriosis and hormonal conception or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • March 2020 Ms McGregor-Sims continued to report symptoms but was prescribed antibiotics over the phone for her breathlessness. She was seen in person by a GP when it was thought that she may have Covid.
  • On April 6, a mass of 5.3cm was detected following a CT scan.
  • A PET scan on April 9 found that the cancer was “widespread and inoperable” and “chemotherapy was the only option”.
  • On April 12th Ms McGregor-Sims was told that she had stage 4 cervical cancer.
  • She was admitted to QA Hospital in Cosham on April 13 2020 suffering from shortness of breath.
  • Ms McGregor-Sims died on April 14, 2020 in hospital after her cancer spread to her lungs, causing breathing problems and a fatal heart attack.

The Inquest

The three-day inquest into Ms McGregor-Sims’s death concluded on March 24 2022.

At the hearing locum gynaecologist, Dr Peter Schlesinger said that her symptoms, which included bleeding after sex, didn’t suggest any severe illness. He told the hearing that he assumed it was a hormone problem because Ms McGregor had, a year before her death, ceased a birth control injection.

Dr Peter Schlesinger said at the hearing:

‘It was far more likely her symptoms were due to other causes. On the balance of probability – she didn’t have cancer [with the symptoms she described].’

‘The vast majority of people with her symptoms do not have cancer.

‘Post-coital bleeding (bleeding after intercourse) was the new part of the story. I listened to the patient, and she told me about the myriad of symptoms she had.

‘Given the recent cessation of hormonal contraception, it was more likely she had bleeding from this than cervical cancer.

‘Married to that, she had a normal smear test and ultrasound – which has a 92 per cent chance of finding cancer – I considered she had dysfunctional uterine bleeding and not cervical cancer.

‘No letter from Porsche’s GP mentioned either the words ‘cancer’ or ‘urgent’.’

Obvious symptoms of cervical cancer overlooked

Dr Claire Burton, a consultant gynaecologist

At the inquest, Dr Claire Burton, a consultant gynaecologist, said Porsche McGregor-Sims should have received a physical examination and apologised to the family:

“If [Dr. Schlesinger] had examined her [in late January], then she would have been referred for a colposcopy more quickly, where diagnosis would have been made.

“I would like to express our condolences to Porsche’s family and friends and to apologise for the care she had here.”

Dirk Brinkmann, gynaecology oncological lead

Dirk Brinkmann, gynaecology oncological lead at the hospital, said Ms McGregor-Sims had a “full house of symptoms” of cervical cancer.

He said:

“I’m not sure what else you would need to be suspicious of cervical cancer.”

“Those symptoms are common – and could be caused by many other things and could be caused by infection – but what we usually try to do is find a unifying diagnosis, and there is a unifying diagnosis and that is cervical cancer.”

Dr Brinkmann estimated that the 27-year-old would have had a 70 per cent chance of living 24 more months if she had been examined 11 weeks earlier and received a correct diagnosis.

However, he admitted that it was a “difficult question to answer” and added that it would have been a “best case” scenario dependent on whether she had responded well to chemotherapy.

She felt she was “not listened to”

The family – in a statement by the court – said that it was “very out of character” for Ms McGregor-Sims to complain, but she felt she was “not listened to” and was “talked over.”

During the inquest, her family accused Dr Schlesinger of having denied them their chance to say goodbye.

Her mother, Fiona Hawke, told him:

“You robbed us of the opportunity to prepare for her death and say goodbye to her.”

She told the inquest that her daughter was “scared and alone.”

“She knew it wasn’t good, she knew it was going to be a fight, and she knew she probably was not going to survive it in the long run.

“But she did not expect to die two days after being diagnosed. She expected to be listened to and helped, but that is not what happened.

“From December on, the time taken to diagnose and assess her cost us what very little time we might have had to adjust to the fact we were going to lose her, and to be there with her and for her and in any way prepare for the massive loss we were about to experience.

“Had the examination been done in January we would have still have had some time with her.

“When she went into hospital, there was not one single person in this family who thought she was not coming out again.

“A few weeks more would have made an indescribable difference to that experience for all of us – including Porsche.”

Death concluded as of ‘natural causes’

Coroner Rhodes-Kemp concluded that the inquest could serve as a ‘learning exercise’ that would prevent future death.

She said:

“It is not clear that a referral in January would have altered the tragic outcome, but an earlier diagnosis would have allowed her and her family more time to prepare themselves.”

Ms Rhodes-Kemp and said that Ms McGregor-Sims’ death was to be concluded as of ‘natural causes’ as she was not trying to “belittle the suffering of the family, but there is no evidence that an earlier diagnosis would have altered the outcome.”

Ms. Rhodes-kemp explained:

“We see hundreds and hundreds of cases every year – and I have done about 6,000 inquests – but this one is particularly sad.”

NHS trust apologises

Liz Rix, a chief nurse at Portsmouth Hospital University NHS Trust, expressed her condolences to the family. She said:

‘When we were aware of concerns around her care, we immediately investigated these and ensured we learnt from the experience of Porsche and her loved ones.

‘I would like to reassure patients that their safety is of utmost importance to us, and should they have any concerns or questions regarding their care, encourage them to raise these with the team caring for them. Our thoughts are with Porsche’s family at this difficult time.’

The inquest heard of the reviewed protocols by NHS Trust following this case. The Trust had decided to hire more in-house consultants rather than employing locum doctors. It was also noted that another doctor now saw all the patients who visited Dr Schlesinger.

Was your cervical cancer misdiagnosed?

If your GP, consultant, radiologist or other health care provider failed to diagnose your cervical cancer, you could be entitled to make a medical negligence compensation claim.

Our cancer misdiagnosis solicitors will guide you through the process of securing compensation, help you get the treatment you need and maybe even assist with interim expenses.

Our cancer misdiagnosis claims service provides:

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For more information or to start your free case evaluation, contact our ‘No Win No Fee’ cervical cancer claims experts today on 0333 900 8787, email admin@devonshiresclaims.co.uk or complete our online form.

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