Globally cervical cancer kills millions of women every year. There is a wealth of evidence suggesting that cervical screening is one of the best defences against the development of cervical cancer. Lives could be saved if medical practitioners make a point of routinely enquiring about the date and result of the patient's last cervical smear test and if they repeatedly emphasize the importance of attendance for cervical smear tests, especially in post-menopausal women.
A 66 year old caucasian woman presented with symptoms of a lower respiratory tract infection, weight loss, anorexia and night sweats. There was no history of post menopausal bleeding. She was admitted for intravenous antibiotics. A few days later she developed vomiting, abdominal pain and a brown vaginal discharge.
She then had a CT scan which showed a pyometra extending to the umbilicus, with an intrauterine contraceptive device noted inside. After re-taking the history, it emerged that a Lippes loop was inserted 25 years previously. The patient was not given relevant information at the time and then unfortunately was lost to follow up.
The pyometra was drained and the coil removed. However, at operation cervical cancer was suspected and biopsies taken. The patient's sepsis improved after pyometra drainage but histology subsequently confirmed stage 1B squamous cell cervical carcinoma. She was referred for a radical hysterectomy.
Every consultation is an opportunity for health education and promotion. Patients need to be encouraged to utilize cervical screening programmes. It is also important to remember that cervical cancer can present with non-specific symptoms, thus the onus is on all doctors to take a good history and perform a thorough examination. Failing to do so may delay making the right diagnosis, with associated morbidity and mortality.