The family of a British woman, who died at 25 after a year-long battle with cervical cancer, says the death could have been easily avoided and is pushing to have the age of screening for the disease lowered.
“She didn’t need to suffer this – it was tragic and completely avoidable,” Rachel Sarjantson’s mother, Lisa Rich, told The Blackpool Gazette recently.
Sarjantson, of Blackpool, was diagnosed with cervical cancer last year, at the age of 24, after a Pap test came back abnormal.
She had been selected, at random, for early screening. But for Sarjantson it was still too late. Her cancer was aggressive. She underwent a hysterectomy in September. She was then told the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, so she went through rounds of radiation treatment.
She thought she was in the clear, only to find out in April that the cancer was back and she was too weak for chemotherapy, the Daily Mail reports. She died Aug. 12, leaving behind her 20-month-old son Ronnie and her fiance, Karl Hyde.
None of that should have happened, her family says.
Despite Sarjantson being called in a few months early for her first Pap test, the legal age in England for the first exam is 25. Sarjantson's family wants to see that lowered to 20.
That’s where it was until the Advisory Committee on Cervical Cancer recommended raising the age to 25 in 2003.
The current age in Scotland is 20 but that, too, is set to go up to 25 next year, according to the Daily Mail.
If the age were to be lowered, more young women might catch dangerous abnormalities that can lead to cervical cancer, Sarjantson’s 28-year-old sister, Zoe, told The Gazette.
“If the age limit had been lowered already, she might still be here,” she told The Blackpool Gazette of her sister. “So many young girls are dying of it. Maybe in time they can help other mums, for their children’s sake if not anything else.”
Mayo Clinic notes on its websites that detecting cervical cancer early gives you a greater chance to recovering. The website adds that the recommended age to begin pap tests is 21.
But that is a U.S. recommendation.
A representative for Public Health England said starting screening too early may not be as helpful as some suppose.
“Women below the age of 25 often undergo natural and harmless changes in the cervix that screening would identify as cervical abnormalities,” the representative said, according to the Daily Mail.
“Despite this, cervical cancer is very rare in this age group. In most cases these abnormalities resolve themselves without any need for treatment,” she added. “Research has shown if women suffer unnecessary treatment, this could have an adverse effect on their future childbearing.”