Dying Sunderland woman's cancer missed by medics on 58 occasions in five months - inquest hears

Jeanette Scully with husband David.
Jeanette Scully with husband David.
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A Sunderland woman who died from an aggressive form of cancer had made 58 medical visits in just five months before she was finally diagnosed, an inquest has heard.

Jeanette Scully was in horrific pain as a rare malignant tumour took over her uterus and spread through her abdomen, the hearing at Sunderland Civic Centre was told.

By the time the cause of her suffering was discovered, last June, it was too late to operate and the 47-year-old, from Hylton Castle, died in St Benedict's Hospice on August 11.

The inquest, held by Sunderland assistant coroner Andrew Hetherington, was told that Jeanette - who wed David, her partner of 22 years, after finding out her condition was terminal - had made numerous trips to her GP, Dr Victoria Middleton at Dr Weatherhead & Associates Surgery on Southwick Green.

She had been examined for abdominal pain since 2012, and was also suffering from back, hip and thigh pain and rectal bleeding.

Dr Middleton told the hearing that she did not refer Jeanette under the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) two-week cancer guidelines because her bleeding did not last for two weeks. She did tell her to go directly to accident and emergency, where her pain was put down to constipation and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), the inquest heard.

"I was aware she was seen by various specialists" Dr Middleton said. "It's not unusual." When asked if Jeanette could have been referred earlier under the guidelines, she said: "No I don't feel that she could have been."

She had been referred to musculoskeletal and gynaecological specialists and had even had surgery to remove the lining of her uterus.

Having been told she had harmless fibroids, Jeanette was also prescribed medication to temporarily induce an early menopause to see whether she would benefit from a total hysterectomy.

She attended Sunderland Royal Hospital's accident and emergency department on six occasions between September 2014 and May 2015, before the high grade tumour was finally discovered.

Speaking through his lawyer, husband David said Jeanette made 58 trips to medical appointments in five months, which did not include the numerous telephone consultations she'd had.

She was in so much pain she was unable to eat and lost three stone in weight in three months, yet, according to Christopher Philips, an emergency medicine consultant at Sunderland Royal Hospital, her medical records said specifically that there was no unexplained weight loss.

Dr Middleton also said that she failed to record Jeanette's weight, adding: "In hindsight, I should have done."

On February 11, 2015, a CT scan was carried out. When gynaecologist Dr Aarti Ullal was asked whether this should have picked up the cancer, she said: "Sarcomas are so rare I don't know the answer to that.

"I have a very limited experience of sarcomas. The only one I'm aware of at Sunderland was after a hysterectomy for a completely unrelated reason - the sarcoma was found after that. That was 10 years ago.

"Cancer of the uterine wall is less than 1% of women who have had cancer of the uterus. It's extremely rare."

Dr Ullal added that fibroids are "very common" but said that pain is not a common symptom of them, unless they are very large.

She said It is "extremely rare" that fibroids turn into cancer, adding: "We will be caught out now and again with sarcomas."

Home Office pathologist Dr Jennifer Bolton, who carried out a post mortem on Jeanette, said she died as a result of a chest infection, caused by the malignant tumour - an "extremely rare" smooth-muscle sarcoma.

She said she was unable to tell where the tumour had originated, but said surgery would never have been an option as the tumour had "taken over" the whole abdomen, and chemotherapy was not a viable option. She said a drain was inserted to ease the pressure and she was transferred to the hospice, where she was put on pain management.

"She had lots and lots of smaller tumours deposited all over her abdomen, on the lining of the uterus, the surface of her bowel and and the surface of her stomach, Dr Bolton said. "The main bulk of the tumour was in the pelvis."

Dr Bolton added that there was no way she could determine when the cancer had started, but said it had been an aggressive tumour.

The inquest continues.