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Adele Sewell: "I incorrectly assumed that a cervical smear would discover all female gynaecological cancers""

05 September 2022

Adele collage

After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer eight years after her breast cancer diagnosis, Adele was encouraged by her doctors to undergo genetic testing.

"I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 and then with ovarian cancer in 2007. While diagnosis and treatment of the breast cancer took less than six months, it was a full 18 months from my first symptom of ovarian cancer until diagnosis. On reflection, I had all the classic symptoms and a few non-classic ones too but still diagnosis took a long time.

The symptoms I had were sciatica, urinary frequency, constipation, irregular periods, a bloated stomach, an internal pain near my belly button, lower abdominal pain and random periods of itching. The first symptom was at the beginning of 2006 and the other symptoms accumulated over time through to Summer 2007. I attended my GP surgery for each symptom but none of the doctors considered ovarian cancer as a cause until my stomach was bloated. Instead I had tests for urine infections, a bone scan and was referred to a specialist for sciatica. 

Early in 2007 I asked for an extra smear test. Because of my breast cancer history I was worried that my symptoms were cancer-related. I incorrectly assumed that a cervical smear would discover all female gynaecological cancers. I now know that a cervical smear only looks for cervical cancer.

After I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the doctors said that most people don’t get two completely different cancers without some kind of genetic involvement. In January 2008 I found out that I had a BRCA2 gene mutation. I realised that this represented a can of worms for my family members as they could have it too. Since 2007, three of my four siblings have found that they also carry the BRCA2 gene mutation and two of them have been diagnosed with BRCA related cancers.

"I remain optimistic about the future and continue to make the most of every day."

Adele Sewell

I had a recurrence of ovarian cancer in 2010 which was once more treated with surgery and chemotherapy. The recurrence was on the surface of my bowel and I had a bowel resection. I was told by my clinicians that I now had 'recurrent ovarian cancer' and that the cancer would keep coming back every two years or less. Instead, I had a wonderful 8-year remission where I was able to travel and continue to get a lot of enjoyment out of life.

In 2018 I was told that the cancer was back on the surface of my liver. I had surgery in October 2018 which proved to be unsuccessful. I had further surgery in February 2019 and this surgery successfully removed the tumour which turned out to be on the diaphragm.

In total, I have now had five cancer-related surgeries – one for breast cancer and four for ovarian cancer. I’m now finishing off third line chemotherapy treatment. Every time that I have had chemo (in 2007/2008, 2010 and 2018) I have had the same drugs i.e. Carboplatin and Taxol (Paclitaxel).

It is now 15 years since I was first diagnosed with stage 3C high grade, serous ovarian cancer and more than nine years since I was told that it was incurable but treatable. Despite this, I remain optimistic about the future and continue to make the most of every day."

This September, Adele is busting the myth that a cervical smear can pick up ovarian cancer, as part of our Gynae Cancer Awareness Month campaign. Ovarian cancer is such a difficult disease for doctor's to diagnose and that means it's extremely important that women really understand the symptoms of ovarian cancer and they speak to their GP"

Discover more about how ovarian cancer is diagnosed and what to do if you're concerned