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Last Updated: Monday, 19 November 2007, 10:19 GMT
'I had a baby - despite cervical cancer'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

The Cartwright family
Jannine was desperate for another baby
Jannine Cartwright was a young mum of two when she developed cervical cancer.

At the age of 25 she faced the loss of her cervix and womb - and with it her hopes of another baby to complete her family.

But earlier this year Jannine gave birth to Archie, now eight months.

And she is full of praise for the medics and the pioneering surgery, which made her 'miracle baby' a reality.

Worrying symptoms

It was shortly after having her second son, Reece, in 2002, that Jannine started to experience abnormal bleeding and pain.

Doctors assured her that it was due to her recent birth, and caring for toddler Jacob.

I was so desperate for another baby I was begging them to refer me
Jannine Cartwright

Then in 2004, just before trying for her third child she had a routine smear, and the results were abnormal.

She had a biopsy, which confirmed the suspicion that she had cancer.

Jannine was devastated, but admits her first thoughts were not fear of the cancer, but how it could affect her fertility.

"I was desperate for another baby," she said.

I just burst into tears. I smoked at the time and all I could think about was wanting a cigarette. It was ridiculous: someone tells you that you have cancer and all you want to do is smoke.

"It was so stupid."

High birth risk

The standard treatment for cervical cancer is a radical hysterectomy, removing the cervix and the whole of the womb.This is followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

If she opted for that, Jannine's dream of a third child would be over.

Jannine and husband Shaun were deeply distressed, but her specialist mentioned a revolutionary technique pioneered by a team at Barts and The London NHS Trust called a radical trachelectomy.

This aims to preserve fertility in cases where the cancer has not spread beyond the cervix.

Developed by consultant gynaecologist oncologist Professor John Shepherd, it removes the cervix, but leaves the womb intact.

Jannine was warned that the operation was not without risk, but decided to press ahead anyway.

"I was warned that the surgery could affect my bladder or bowel, and that I'd have a higher risk of miscarriage or premature birth," she said.

"But I didn't care - I was so desperate for another baby I was begging them to refer me.

"I said goodbye to the kids and wrote them a letter in case the operation went wrong."

Bouncing baby

Almost a year later she was given the all-clear and told she could try for another baby - eight months ago she had little Archie by Caesarian.

"He is such a good baby," she said.

"To me he is our miracle baby because even though we knew the surgery should mean I could have a baby, the chance of miscarriage was so much higher.

"I look at him sometimes and think: 'My God! You were obviously meant to be'."

The problem in the past has been one of premature labour
Professor Shepherd

Jannine hopes her story will raise awareness of cervical cancer.

About 2,800 women are diagnosed each year in the UK and it is the second most common cancer in women under 35.

"If just one woman is encouraged by my story to go for a smear test, then it could save a life," she said.

"If I hadn't had a smear test when I did, I'd be dead by now and my two boys would have been left without a mother."

Barts and The London is the main centre for this surgery in the UK.

It has now carried out 145 operations, with 72 pregnancies, 33 live births and another five women expecting babies over the last decade.

Human papilloma virus
Human papilloma virus causes most cases of cervical cancer

Over the last year Professor Shepherd has developed the technique even further so that women with early stage cervical cancer need even less of their cervix removed.

So far the procedure has only been carried out on 10 women so it is too early to know how successful it is, although Professor Shepherd is hopeful.

"The problem in the past has been one of premature labour," said Professor Shepherd.

"And that has been because the whole cervix has been removed.

"In some of these tumours we can now try and preserve a small rim of the cervix at the top end, just at the bottom of the uterus."

The top priority is to ensure that all the cancerous tissue has been removed.

But in theory, if a small portion of the cervix can be retained, it should reduce the risk of rupture, and of premature birth.

Not only would that give women the chance to get pregnant again, it would maximise the odds that the pregnancy will be successful.



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