Woman has pioneering cancer surgery weeks after giving birth

Friday 23 March 2018

Susan O'Flanagan and baby Archie

A woman who was diagnosed with a large kidney tumour during pregnancy has thanked medics at Guy’s and St Thomas’ after making a full recovery.

Susan O’Flanagan, 40 from Greenwich in London, was shocked when the 14cm mass on her right kidney was detected during her routine 20-week scan. Thanks to the specialist teams at Guy’s and St Thomas’, her baby son Archie was safely delivered and her tumour was successfully removed with robot-assisted surgery four weeks after his birth.

Susan, a mother of three, said: “It was only by chance that the sonographer saw the tumour because Archie was lying the wrong way around so she needed to hold the ultrasound probe in a different position to measure his head. When she told me she’d seen a mass there I was so scared.”

Due to her pregnancy, it was only safe for her to have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan rather than a biopsy or CT (computerised tomogrpahy) scan, which meant that it was not possible to tell whether or not the tumour was cancerous until it was removed.

Susan said: “There was a chance I would need to abort the pregnancy so that I could have surgery to remove the tumour quickly – it was a very worrying time. Luckily regular MRI scans showed that the tumour wasn’t growing so teams at Guy’s and St Thomas’ decided that it was safe for me to continue with the pregnancy while being closely monitored.

“As the baby grew, and with the pressure from my tumour, it became increasingly uncomfortable and painful, and I felt ill all the time. One of the scans even showed the baby kicking the tumour.”

She was induced at 34 weeks and gave birth to Archie. Four weeks later, in June last year, she had robotic surgery to remove her right kidney. Tests found that the mass was cancerous but had not spread further than her kidney.

Susan recalled: “I was gutted – I didn’t expect it to be cancerous because it hadn’t been growing. The surgery and my recovery meant that I couldn’t do much for Archie when he was very little so I felt like I missed out. It was a lot for my body to go through soon after giving birth but I was lucky that removing the tumour then meant that the cancer had not spread and that I didn’t need any further treatment.”

Since then Susan has been monitored closely and all her tests have been clear.

She said: “I couldn’t have asked for better care from the teams at Guy’s and St Thomas’. Whenever I was worried I could phone them – they were amazing.

“Now Archie is ten months and doing really well. I didn’t have any symptoms from my cancer so if I hadn’t been pregnant I may not have found out about it until a later stage. I don’t think Archie will ever realise how special he is.”

Mr Ben Challacombe, consultant urological surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “This was a very unusual case – we perform 450 cases of robotic surgery a year at Guy’s Hospital as part of our large robotic surgery programme but this was different to anything we’d done before.

Kidney cancer is very rare in a young woman and this was more unusual still because Susan was pregnant. The urology team worked closely with the maternity team to ensure we could deliver the best possible care for Susan and her baby.”

During a robotic procedure, surgeons control the robot’s ‘arms’ from a console. They look down a small camera at the end of one arms to see inside the patient and the machine gives them a 3D HD view while they operate, eliminates tremor and provides an increased range of movement.

Mr Challacombe added: “Using robotic surgery to remove Susan’s kidney meant that she was left with a small scar and was able to recover faster than she would have done with conventional surgery. I’m delighted that she and Archie are both doing so well nearly a year later.”

Last updated: March 2022

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