Cervical Cancer: An early diagnosis saved my life

In 2015, Natalie was diagnosed with cervical cancer following a smear test. Here she tells us about the importance of cervical cancer screenings and her journey to parenthood after cancer.

There are around 3,200 new cases of cervical cancer in the UK every year. This makes up 2% of all new cancer cases diagnosed in women in the UK. 99.8% of cervical cancer cases in the UK are preventable, and when detected and treated early cervical cancer is curable. 

Cervical screening offers the greatest protection against cervical cancer, with smear tests preventing 75% of cervical cancers. Unfortunately, the number of women attending cervical screening in the UK is falling, which is why raising awareness about Cervical Cancer Prevention is key. 

In 2015, Natalie Hickton, aged just 32, was diagnosed with cervical cancer and received treatment at The Royal Marsden. She has shared her story to help raise awareness of the risks of cervical cancer and the importance of being diagnosed early.  

Natalie’s story - 'I was facing the risk of not having children in the future.'

Image of Natalie Hickton at the hospital in Sutton

“I wasn’t going for the routine check-ups, then I went overseas for two years before coming back home and getting married” Natalie recalls. “My husband and I started thinking about children and I thought I should get everything checked out. I had been about five years without a smear test because of certain circumstances.”

In June 2015, following a smear test, Natalie received the overwhelming news that she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. She was referred to The Royal Marsden for treatment and, within a few months, had undergone two operations. 

Thanks to the amazing research and technology at The Royal Marsden, I was able to avoid having a hysterectomy.

Robotic surgery at The Royal Marsden.

The Royal Marsden is well known as the most comprehensive centre for robotic cancer surgery in the UK, ensuring patients have access to the latest techniques and treatments. 

“Just a few years before my diagnosis, my only option would have been a complete hysterectomy. Thanks to the amazing research and technology at The Royal Marsden, I was able to avoid this and have an alternate procedure” 

Instead, Natalie’s doctors were able to perform a fertility-saving robotic surgery.  

Using the da Vinci surgical robot, funded by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, surgeons were able to use 3D magnification to see Natalie’s cancer in much closer detail to identify any areas at risk of spreading. As robotic surgery is less invasive, Natalie was able to go home just one night after her operation  

Just four months after her diagnosis, Natalie was given the all-clear.  

Becoming a mum after cervical cancer.

“Six months after I had the all clear I asked my doctor if I was able to start trying for a baby, which I was. We were very lucky; I fell pregnant almost immediately. 

I have had constant care from my surgeon, Mr. Ind, the whole way through. When I got pregnant, he said he would like to see me when I turned 24 weeks as the early weeks of pregnancy can be quite risky."

Image of Natalie enjoying a day out with her husband and two sons.

I owe Mr. Ind my life and for saving my ability to have children. I could have had a hysterectomy, but he knew that I was of an age where I would be thinking about having a family. He told me that they were going to do their best to give me the chance of having children and I have now got a five-year-old and a 2-year-old. I feel incredibly lucky. My two sons are a complete gift. They are like two little miracles."

Cervical cancer prevention - Natalie’s words of advice 

“Hearing that I had the all-clear, I was elated. Thankfully, I was one of the lucky ones; we caught it relatively early. I felt very supported by my family and friends, but I felt angry with myself that I hadn’t been for my check-ups earlier than I did. Ever since I have been an advocate of getting tested.”  

For anyone worried about having a cervical smear test, it takes about 30 seconds, and it could save your life.

“Women still need to be encouraged to look after themselves, and my advice would be to please go and get checked out if you’re worried about anything. It is great that young people can now be vaccinated for the HPV virus to prevent cervical cancer too.” 

It has now been six years since Natalie was given the all-clear. She is still having check-ups and smear tests regularly. She says, “For the first couple of years I would have them every three months, then this moved to six months, and now I have annual check-ups." 

“I cannot thank the team at The Royal Marsden enough" 

gynaecological cancer research at The Royal Marsden 

Thanks to new advances, The Royal Marsden is successfully treating gynaecological cancers in more patients than ever before. As well as pioneering surgery, we are also researching new drug treatments and funding drug trials for gynaecological cancers, thanks to the support of organisations like The Lady Garden Foundation, in order to develop new treatments that will support not only patients at The Royal Marsden but all over the UK and the world.