Posted April 17, 2018 04:42:50
Like every new mum Kirsty Browne feels lucky, but she has another reason to be thankful — she was able to give birth without a cervix.
Ms Browne was just 26 when, following a routine Pap smear, she was diagnosed with a rare form of cervical cancer called adenocarcinoma.
"When the doctor did call me to tell me he was referring me [to a specialist], I was pretty shocked," she said. "It was quite surreal."
In addition to her diagnosis, the young woman was also confronted with the news that her treatment could make her infertile.
But Ms Browne's specialist recommended a new form of surgery that would mean she didn't need a complete hysterectomy.
It's called a trachelectomy and involved removing her cervix and surrounding structures, and stitching up the base of her uterus.
"I wasn't out of bed for five days, couldn't walk for two weeks, and wasn't up and about for a month because I had so much surgery on my pelvis," she said.
Ms Browne's cancer was removed by the surgery and within two years she met her now husband Murray.
She fell pregnant naturally — which was a big surprise. It's rare for women to fall pregnant after having their cervix removed.
Doctors believe Ms Browne is one of only two women in Australia who have delivered a baby after having the surgery.
"That was quite scary. Not only was it unknown for me, it was unknown for the entire high-risk team," she said.
"So I had weekly scans and I was on bed rest from 25 weeks. I spent the last month in hospital as well, but it was worth it."
Baby Baxter was born four months ago at 35 weeks and is doing well.
"He was born early because I wasn't allowed to labour," Ms Browne said.
"Having contractions when you're all stitched together can be dangerous because you can tear and haemorrhage.
"I almost feel like it hasn't happened. The first time I went to mother's group I kind of burst into tears because I feel like I've been watching somebody else's baby and I feel like it's actually mine."
While Ms Browne's pregnancy was extraordinary, without a Pap smear her future could have been much different.
She said her experience showed testing was important, even for younger women.
"I'm glad that things are changing and that people might not have to go through what I went through," she said.
"Go and get screened. It is much, much easier than the alternative."
Ms Browne has spoken about her experience as research reveals Australia's new Pap smear program will halve cervical cancer rates by 2035.
The research, published in the journal PLOS ONE, estimates the scheme will avert up to 2,000 new cervical cancer cases and save 587 women's lives by 2035.
Under the new regime, which started in December, women over 25 now only need a Pap smear every five years instead of two.
Smear samples are tested for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) first, and if it's positive, the sample is subjected to the traditional test for abnormal cells.
HPV is common but is associated with 80 per cent of cervical cancers, and if it's present doctors know to monitor for the disease.
Co-author Professor Karen Canfell said their work was the first to estimate survival rates based on both the new testing regime and the HPV vaccination scheme using Gardasil.
"What we have shown is cervical cancer is on the way to be eliminated," she said.
"It helps us plan for the future and understand what to expect from a health services point of view."
The study also predicted a small increase in the first few years of vaccination and screening, but Professor Canfell said it was not cause for concern.
"It will lead to a bit of earlier detection in some women, we just want to make sure people anticipate that because it will look like a small spike," she said.