A young mum who has been diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer believes her prognosis could have been significantly improved if she had been by her GP in person.

Sophie Butterworth, 30, is about to undergo extensive treatment for Stage 3 cancer, after the disease went undetected for around 15 months - despite her complaining of classic symptoms.

The mum-of-one also faced a delay of five months for a smear test due to the coronavirus pandemic, as she desperately tried to seek a diagnosis for her pain.

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She is now about to be checked into the Christie Hospital in south Manchester for an intense seven-week course of radiotherapy and chemotherapy to treat the cancer.

Sophie, who is originally from Sale but now lives in Burnley, won't be able to see her eight-year-old daughter the whole time, and will be lucky to be out of hospital in time for Christmas.

She was only 29-years-old when she first rang her GP practice in June 2020, complaining of abnormal vaginal bleeding.

The mum had not had her smear test at the age of 25 as she was out of the country - something she is now advising other women not to delay - and was asked to book one by her doctor.

Sophie says she has since found out that due to her symptoms, she should not have been told to book a smear test, but should have been referred to a gynaecologist immediately.

Sophie Butterworth has been diagnosed with cervical cancer

"The smear test was cancelled consecutively for five months because of the pandemic," Sophie said, speaking to the Manchester Evening News.

"Every time I found out on the day or day before that it had been cancelled.

"I was then made redundant from my job so I put the smear test on hold as it was a difficult time and my appointments kept getting cancelled."

In March this year, Sophie contacted her GP again and described feeling "generally unwell."

"I have an eight-year-old daughter and I am used to being very active. I just felt irritable and lethargic all the time," she said.

"When I spoke to the GP they thought it might be due to my mental health because of coronavirus but they did book me in for a blood test.

"I had the blood test and my inflammation markers were up but nothing was ever followed up."

By May, the mum began noticing a dull cramping pain as well as unusual vaginal discharge.

She contacted her GP again and claims he was given a course of antibiotics over the phone, despite asking to be seen for a physical examination.

After the first course of antibiotics failed to alleviate her symptoms, Sophie was then put on another course.

"In July I finally had my smear test done. It took seven weeks for the results to come back," she said.

"The pain was getting a lot worse. I had to move in with my family because the pain was so bad I couldn’t look after my daughter.

Sophie Butterworth

"I knew something was really wrong. I was asked to send off some swabs to the doctors and they said it looked like an infection and gave me more antibiotics.

"At this point I was crying down the phone begging to be physically examined but I wasn’t.

"After those antibiotics didn’t work I was booked in for an ultrasound in September. They told me I had a cyst which was normal and wouldn’t need following up."

But shortly afterwards, Sophie received the results for her smear test, which confirmed that she was HPV positive and the cells that were tested had come back as abnormal.

"This is the only point things started to get investigated - not because of any of my symptoms," the mum said.

"I went for an appointment and I was told not to worry. Then the clinician looked at my cervix and it all went very serious.

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"She told me she was very concerned that I could have cancer and referred me for an MRI that same afternoon."

Sophie was formally diagnosed with stage three cervical cancer over the phone on September 27 this year.

She has been informed that the cancer has since spread to her lymph nodes.

"I got the smear test letter when I was 25 but I was out of the country at that point so I only booked an appointment when I got my letter five years later," Sophie said.

"I feel really passionate about raising awareness of the importance of smear tests and also the importance of having face-to-face GP appointments.

"My oncologist believes I’ve had the cancer for around 12 months. I 100% believe it would have made a difference to the cancer if I had been seen earlier.

"I think if I had been referred last year it wouldn’t have got to stage three and spread to my lymph nodes.

"It is absolutely heartbreaking for me. My daughter cries every day. It has taken such a toll on both of us.

"The most I have been away from my daughter is probably two days and I’m going to be away from her for seven weeks."

Last week, the Government said patients will be given a new right to demand face-to-face appointments and that GP surgeries that fail to provide an appropriate level of "access" will be named and shamed.

NHS England said GP practices must "respect preferences for face-to-face care unless there are good clinical reasons to the contrary".

The move has been heavily criticised by many GPs, who say they are battling extremely high levels of demand, as well as still being plagued by staff sickness due to Covid-19.

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Dr Tom Tasker, who oversees general practice across Greater Manchester has said staff are 'demoralised' and 'burnt out' – but they are still doing their best.

He explained that, although GPs are working remotely, patients are brought into practices for face-to-face appointments when it is clinically necessary.

The GP also spoke of the 'huge pressure' being faced by the whole health care system and the 'nervousness' among staff about demand during the winter.

He said: "It is tough. And it's tough for our public because they've tried to work with us throughout the pandemic and now they're having to continue to wait – in some cases longer than they would like to. So it is a difficult situation."

Sophie's family have since set up a gofundme page which is also being used to raise awareness of cervical cancer, and the signs and symptoms to look out for.

You can donate here.

What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening is a free health test available on the NHS as part of the national cervical screening programme.

It helps prevent cervical cancer by checking for a virus called high-risk HPV and cervical cell changes. It is not a test for cancer.

You should be invited for cervical screening if you have a cervix. Women are usually born with a cervix. Trans men, non-binary and intersex people may also have one.

In the UK, you are automatically invited for cervical screening if you are:

You may get your first invite up to 6 months before you turn 25. You can book an appointment as soon as you get the invite.

If you have symptoms, contact your GP surgery about having an examination.

Cervical screening is not for people who have symptoms.