Vulval Cancer Misdiagnosis Claims

Being diagnosed with vulval cancer can be difficult to come to terms with.  If you later discover that there have been mistakes in your medical care, it can be even harder.

At Bolt Burdon Kemp, we make bringing a legal claim as easy as possible.   We will provide both expert legal advice and specialist support to you and your family throughout the legal process.

Our team of expert solicitors will handle your claim professionally and sensitively.  We have significant experience of successfully pursuing cancer negligence claims.

If you suspect that you have not received the medical care you should have please contact our medical negligence team.   Most claims are funded on a no-win-no-fee basis.

image of female reproductive system

Vulval cancer – the facts

The vulva is a term which describes the external female sex organs. The vulva is formed of outer and inner lips called the labia majora and labia minora. The clitoris is at the front of the vulva.

Vulval cancer is rare, with approximately 1,200 diagnoses each year in the UK.  Vulval cancer can develop in any part the vulva. The most common site for vulval cancer is in the inner edge of the labia majora and labia minora. The cause of vulval cancer is not known, but there are some risk factors associated with an increased risk of vulval cancer. These include age (most women diagnosed are over the age of 65) and smoking.  Studies have shown that the human papilloma virus (HPV) is found in 40% of women with vulval cancer.  90% of the time there is a lump or sore on the vulva.

There are different types of vulval cancer.  If it is diagnosed, your doctor will take a biopsy to find out what type you have. The most common type of vulval cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, with 90% being of this type. This is usually noticed as pre-cancerous changes, which later develop slowly into cancer over a number of years.

Vulval melanoma is the second most common type of vulval cancer.  It makes up 4% of diagnoses and usually occurs in women over the age of 50.

Other, rarer forms of vulval cancer include sarcomas, angiosarcomas, basal cell carcinoma and verrucous carcinoma.

Symptoms of vulval cancer

There are a wide range of symptoms of vulval cancer.  There is no routine screening for vulval cancer in the UK so it is important that you know the symptoms and see your GP if you are worried.

Symptoms include:

  • A lasting itch
  • Pain or soreness in any part of your vulva
  • Thickened, raised, red, white or dark patches on the skin of the vulva
  • An open sore or growth visible on the skin of your vulva
  • Burning pain when you pass urine
  • Vaginal discharge or bleeding
  • A mole on the vulva that changes shape or colour
  • A lump or swelling in the vulva
  • A lump in the groin

It’s important to remember that these symptoms are also caused by other less serious medical conditions.  However, given the significance of the possibility of cancer you should see your GP as soon as you notice any of these.

You may be found to have pre-cancerous changes in your vulva. These changes can occur in younger women. If these are identified, it is usual for them to be monitored by your GP to ensure that they do not become cancerous. These changes may be found during your cervical cancer screening (smear/pap test).

Going to see your GP

At the appointment your GP will ask about the nature of your symptoms, their duration and ask about your general health. They are likely to examine your vulva. Your vulva should also be examined during routine cervical screening appointments.

Your doctor may refer you for further tests or to a hospital specialist. You could be referred to a gynaecologist, who specialises in female reproductive health, or to a dermatologist, who specialises in skin health.  You may be referred for a biopsy to find out whether you have vulval cancer, and if so, the type of vulval cancer you have.

image of doctor showing a x ray to her patient in her office

Vulval cancer misdiagnosis

Given the symptoms, it can be hard to differentiate between vulval cancer and other non-cancerous conditions that affect the vulva.  It may therefore be appropriate for your GP to wait to see if your symptoms subside. However there are some symptoms that warrant an urgent referral to a specialist.

Guidelines for the treatment of suspected vulval cancer say that you should be seen by a hospital doctor within two weeks if you have:

  • An unexplained lump or sore on your vulva
  • Bleeding from the vulva

It is important for vulval cancer to be diagnosed as early as possible, as this means it is easier to treat. Where there is a delay in diagnosing vulval cancer, this may mean that by the time it is found it has already spread to other parts of your body. This will make a very significant difference to your treatment options. If a delay has been caused by the error of a doctor or nurse you may be able to claim for compensation.   

Your medical treatment may be negligent if:

  • You were not referred to a specialist when you should have been
  • Your symptoms were not investigated properly
  • Your vulva was not examined during cervical screening
  • You were not referred for further tests
  • An abnormal test result was not followed up
  • You received inadequate treatment
  • Your vulval cancer was mistaken for a less serious condition

If you have experienced negligent medical care that has caused your cancer to get worse please contact our friendly team to discuss whether you have a claim. Compensation can be obtained for both your injuries and for financial losses caused. This includes the cost of additional care and help that you and your family may need.

Please contact our specialist medical negligence team on 020 7288 4800 or complete our online medical negligence enquiry form.

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