Nfld. & Labrador

Sarah Turpin: The rare cancer that claimed her life

Doctors say that most people survive the rare cancer, choriocarcinoma, which forms in the uterus after a pregnancy.

Turpin's family say there's an investigation into her death

Most people survive the rare form of cancer that killed Sarah Turpin, reports Amy Stoodley 2:49

Sarah Turpin, who passed away in October from a rare form of cancer, could possibly have been saved if she had been diagnosed earlier.

The 32-year-old mother of three was diagnosed with choriocarcinoma less than a week before she died.

Turpin's family said there is now an investigation into her death.

But for the most part, 80 to 90 per cent of the women survive more than five years or indefinitely when they get diagnosed with this disease.- Dr. Patti Power, Eastern Health

Doctors say most people survive from the cancer, which forms in the uterus after a pregnancy.

Turpin had a miscarriage last January, which may have been when the cancer started.

She was still showing signs of being pregnant in September, but an ultrasound could not find a fetus. 

In hindsight, it could have been a sign. 

Dr. Patti Power, the chair of gynaecologic oncology with Eastern Health, describes choriocarcinoma as an overgrowth of placenta tissue that arises when an egg gets abnormally fertilized.

Power said the sad reality is that the cancer is easy to detect and when that happens, the survival rate is very high.

"If you don't start chemotherapy quickly enough, not everybody is cured," said Power.

 "But for the most part, 80 to 90 per cent of the women survive more than five years or indefinitely when they get diagnosed with this disease."

Unanswered questions

When someone has choriocarcinoma, they test positive for pregnancy, but the pregnancy hormone levels are much higher than they would be in a normal pregnancy. 

"It secretes a hormone so it's fairly easy to identify when you present," said Power.

"We have a simple blood test that we can measure the hormone of pregnancy."

Turpin's husband, Peter Russell, is now left behind to raise three children on his own. He said Sarah saw a gynecologist after the miscarriage.

However, Russell doesn't know if Turpin's hormone levels were ever tested, because by the time she was diagnosed, it was too late.  

For Sarah Turpin, there was a very narrow window, as she was diagnosed on a Tuesday and died on Friday. 

The situation leaves a number of unanswered questions surrounding why Turpin wasn't diagnosed sooner, or if a blood test after her miscarriage might have detected the cancer.

With files from Amy Stoodley


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