A mum who showed no signs of a near-deadly stage three tumour has revealed how a routine smear test saved her life.

To friends and family, Karen Loan appeared fit and healthy, enjoying an active social life while getting up every day to go to her job as a manager at a valve manufacturer in Clydebank.

But her world was torn apart when a routine screening followed by a colposcopy biopsy revealed she had cervical cancer which had already spread to her lymph nodes and pelvis.

Doctors delivered the devastating news and told brave Karen that if she had delayed her smear by a month or two then her diagnosis would likely have been a terminal one.

After a hysterectomy, followed by a year of gruelling treatment made up of a combination of chemo and radiotherapy, Karen is finally on the road to recovery and is bravely sharing her story to encourage others to get tested.

Glasgow Times: Karen LoanKaren Loan (Image: Gordon Terris, Newsquest)

The 54-year-old said: “A smear test saved my life, it is as simple as that, I would not be here today if I had delayed it. The tumour that was discovered in my cervix would have continued to grow and the timing was likely the difference between me being here today or the disease being diagnosed as incurable.

“I thought I was a healthy woman, someone who looked after herself. I had no idea such an advanced cancer was growing inside me. If it can happen to me then it can happen to anyone, that’s why I’m so passionate about encouraging others to go for a screening. I never thought I’d end up fighting for my life but the whole experience has taught me to never take anything for granted.”

Mum-of-two-Karen, who lives in Erskine with her husband Garry, is now backing the Glasgow Times’ ‘Don’t Fear the Smear’ campaign as we seek to encourage an uptake in the number of women of all ages coming forward for tests.

Every day across the country two women lose their lives to the disease and nine more receive a life-changing diagnosis. January marks cervical cancer awareness month and the Glasgow Times is ramping up our drive to turn around the staggeringly low uptake of cervical screening tests across the city.

Under the existing system, women can be legitimately excluded from screening for a number of reasons, meaning they would not be called for any further tests.

Karen has praised our drive and is also calling for improvements to cervical screening services, with early detection crucial to improving chances of survival.

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She said: “I now know that delaying my test could have cost me my life and that is why it is vital that there’s access to screening. We know that smear tests save lives, so it’s important that we are giving people regular appointments and doing all we can to encourage them to attend.

“If just one person reads about what happened to me and decides to go and get a smear test then speaking out has been worthwhile. My advice is don’t delay, just go and get it done because the earlier cancer is caught, the better the prognosis.”

READ MORE: Don't Fear the Smear: Report shows weaknesses in cervical screenings

Sadly other members of Karen’s family have been affected by cancer. Her mum was diagnosed with a tumour in her breast over 10 years ago and her mother-in-law passed away after being told she had the disease in 2020. Her dad also passed away suddenly following a similar diagnosis in 2021.

Karen adds: “I was still processing the loss of my dad to cancer, who died two weeks after being diagnosed, when I was told that I was facing a fight for my life.

“I was diagnosed on June 28, 2022, it is a day I’ll never forget as my world just fell apart. Initially, doctors thought they had caught the cancer at an early stage, but a biopsy showed it already spread to my lymph nodes and pelvis. When my surgeon called to tell me the bad news, I could barely speak. I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Nobody wants to hear the word cancer, it’s one of the most heart-breaking moments a person can face, especially when the illness had already impacted our family so badly.”

Karen says her treatment was tough, especially having to undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy on the same day. She credits the incredible staff and volunteers at the Beatson Cancer Charity for supporting her and her loved ones through the most difficult time of their lives.

Glasgow Times: Karen ringing the Beatson bell at the end of her treatmentKaren ringing the Beatson bell at the end of her treatment (Image: Supplied)

She added: “I just can’t thank everyone there enough for their support. On days I was sitting hooked up to IV chemo and feeling a bit down, the lovely team would come over and offer me a sandwich and sit and have a wee natter. It’s the little things like that that help keep you going when things seem bleak.

“I’ve also had fantastic support from my family and friends, I don’t think I would have coped without them. Spending a year going through treatment really took a toll on me; some days I struggled to get out of bed as I was so exhausted and broken down.

“Thankfully, it worked – and I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ll also continue to be closely monitored, which gives me peace of mind.

“Raising awareness of cervical cancer is so important and the Glasgow Times’ ‘Don’t Fear the Smear’ campaign will really help to make a difference. This illness is a silent killer and the more that can be done to get people talking about it the better.”