Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
February 27, 2024 ·  7 min read

She Was Refused A Smear Test Because She Was 24 and ‘Too Young’. Months Later, She Was Diagnosed With Cervical Cancer.

Every woman’s body is different, which is why adhering strictly to age brackets while running tests and making diagnoses can be fatal. It’s not unheard of for a child of 7 or 8 to begin receiving menstrual periods, a condition known as precocious puberty. Some don’t have theirs until they are 17 or 18. There are no strict guidelines in gynecology.

Despite the fact that cervical cancer is most common in women between the ages of 35-44, there are always rare exceptions. Katie Bourne’s doctors insisted that she wouldn’t receive smear tests because she was “too young.” In the UK, smear tests are performed on women between the ages of 25-64 [1] 24 is a pretty close call.

Due to her constant complaints of chronic pain in the abdominal area, Katie was initially diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract. She was given medications that never eased the pain because actually, her bowel was perfectly fine.

The gynecologists refused to test a ‘24-year-old’ with very likely symptoms of cervical cancer

Speaking to Teesside Live, Katie said she began to experience severe stomach pain in July 2018 [2]. She went to the hospital for a checkup in November.

They took some swabs and said I was booked in for a smear,” she said. “But when I went back they said they weren’t going to do the smear and I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. The pain never went with the medication they gave me for that.”

Katie began to read up on her symptoms and everything pointed to cervical cancer. In February, during a second visit to the hospital, the gynecologists still declined her request to test for cervical cancer. Katie had collapsed at work and had to spend three nights on observation.

Because of my age I was still declined a smear and when the pains went they sent me home,” Katie recalled. “My GP had sent two gynae referrals in the December and January but both were declined. All my symptoms have always been the same. And when I Googled them they always brought up cervical cancer.”

Third time’s a charm

The third time she went back to the hospital, she was finally granted a smear test and the result broke her heart. She was diagnosed with stage-three cervical cancer and was told she had only 18 months to live if her treatment wasn’t started immediately.

“My oncologist has said I never had anything wrong with my bowel or I wouldn’t have been able to go on this type of chemotherapy,” Katie said. “When they said cervical cancer I can’t remember anything after. I just remember getting home. It was all a blur. So when the oncologist later ran through it all with me I thought ‘I don’t want to have this conversation again’ so I made sure I took everything in and understood it all.”

Now 25, Katie wants justice for the neglect meted out to her by the gynecologists. She believes that they would have caught it earlier if they hadn’t written her case off. An investigation is currently being carried out by NHS England and the Clinical Commissioning Group. Meanwhile, she started chemotherapy in April and has been scheduled to undergo six sessions.

The doctors aren’t certain how she’d react to treatment because cancer has spread to both sides of her pelvis, but she’s chosen to stay positive and hope for the best.

As everybody is different they can’t really say,” Katie said. “I could take fantastically to the treatment or it might not work. So each scan will tell us more.”

Katie has chosen to live her best life

From getting married to her partner, Leighanne, and watching every episode of the Real Housewives Series, Katie has already made a wish list and she’s setting everything in motion.

30-year-old Leighanne took time off work to look after Katie, and she couldn’t be more proud of her partner’s strength.

She’s more bothered about how everybody else is coping,” Leighanne said. “I didn’t think at any point Katie would be like this as she’s a bit of a princess!”

The couple will wed next month at Middlesbrough Registry Office and a Maldives honeymoon will follow in January.

Katie has family, friends, co-workers, and community members raising funds to take care of her and keep her dreams afloat. Her support system is amazing.

According to Leighanne, Katie’s biggest fear about the whole ordeal is that her beloved nephew wouldn’t be able to recognize her when chemo takes its toll.

“We have got a young nephew Jackson who is nearly four and there is one on the way,” Leighanne said. “She is worried, are they going to remember her? But most of the time she’s so positive, she’s been amazing.”

More on cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is an abnormal growth occurring of cells occurring in the cervix, the lowermost part of the uterus which connects to the vagina.

It has several causes but is believed to be caused mostly by strains of the Human Papillomavirus infection (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease. Other causes include long-term usage of oral contraceptives, multiple sexual partners, smoking, and sexual intercourse at an early age [3].

Cervical cancer occurs mostly in women between the ages of 35 and 44, although 15% of all cervical cancer diagnosis is made in women above the age of 65 [4]. Women below the age of 35 are less likely to develop cervical cancer, and it’s very rarely seen in women below the age of 20. It is estimated that 13,170 women in the United States will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2019 [4].

Symptoms of cervical cancer include [5]:

  • Spotting between or after periods
  • Severe cramps in the lower abdomen
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Pelvic pain that may radiate to the back
  • Bloody urine
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Postmenopausal bleeding

Conventional treatment options include radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and sometimes surgery to remove the bulk of malignant cells.

What is a smear test?

The Papanicolaou test (also known as the Pap smear or smear test) is a diagnostic procedure used to identify changes in the cervix which may be caused by precancerous or cancerous processes [6]. It may not always directly detect cervical cancer, but any abnormal changes detected may be a precursor to the disease, and it’s usually the first step in testing for cervical cancer. This is why women are advised to take a smear test every three years. Changes detected on time may be treated to prevent the occurrence of the disease.

The procedure is a quick one which involves the gentle scraping of cells from the cervical walls for testing [7]. A speculum is inserted into the vagina for dilation while the doctor uses a spatula or a cytobrush to collect your cells.

In the U.K., the test is performed on women between the ages of 25 and 64, but a wider range of 21-65 is followed in the U.S. [7]. Generally, it should be made available to women as young as 20. Access to the examination shouldn’t be restricted or made scarcely available. Early detection is the best chance at prevention or a longer prognosis if diagnosed.


  1. Admin. What is cervical screening? NHS UK. Retrieved 13/06/19
  2. Corrigan, Naomi. Katie, 25, was turned down for smear which may have detected her cancer – and now wants things to change. Teesside Live. Retrieved 13/06/19
  3. Stoppler, Melissa. Cervical Cancer Symptoms, Signs, Causes, and Prognosis. Medicine Net. Retrieved 13/06/19
  4. Admin. Cervical Cancer: Statistics. Cancer.Net Retrieved 13/06/19
  5. Admin. Cervical Cancer: Symptoms and Signs. Cancer.Net. Retrieved 13/06/19
  6. Stoppler, Melissa. Pap Smear Test. E Medicine Health. Retrieved 13/06/19
  7. Admin. Cervical Cancer: Screening. US Preventive Services Task Force. Retrieved 13/06/19
  8. Medical Review team. Pap Smear (Pap Test): What to Expect. Health Line. Retrieved 13/06/19
  9. Staff writer. Precocious Puberty. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 13/06/19Staff Writer. Crohn’s disease. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 13/06/19
  10. Chun, Christina. What you need to know about cervical cancer. Medical News Today. Retrieved 13/06/19
  11. Smith, Lori. What is human papillomavirus (HPV)? Medical News Today. Retrieved 13/06/19