Cancer is extremely common in the United States. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that 1,658,370 new cases will be diagnosed in 2015, or about 4,543 new cases each day. Yet despite this enormous number of diagnoses, even more cases will go undiagnosed – even after being examined by a doctor, dentist, or dermatologist. If your cancer went untreated because a specialist failed to make a timely diagnosis, or if you lost a loved one because a doctor missed a cancerous growth or lesion, you should know about your legal rights as a victim of medical malpractice.
How Often Does Cancer Go Undiagnosed?
There are over 100 different types of cancer, some of which are more prevalent than others. Among the 1,658,370 new cases projected by the NCI this year, the most common cancer diagnoses will be:
- Bladder Cancer
- Breast Cancer
- Colorectal Cancer
- Kidney Cancer
- Lung Cancer
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
- Pancreatic Cancer
- Prostate Cancer
- Thyroid Cancer
- Uterine Cancer (endometrial cancer)
Doctors, like anyone, understand that cancer is both common and potentially fatal. Yet despite being trained to detect various red flags and warning signs, numerous medical practitioners still fail to diagnose cancer appropriately. This phenomenon is not unique to a specific type of tumor or growth. Multiple studies on different forms of cancer have come to alarming conclusions.
For example, a 2015 study published in Annals of Gastroenterology found that colorectal cancer – one of the most common forms expected by the NCI in 2015 – had a “miss rate” of about 8%. Disturbingly, the study noted that “some patients had a missed diagnosis despite more than one diagnostic test,” and that “[the] time delay to diagnosis ranged from 21 to 456 days.” That’s anywhere from three to 65 weeks late.
A 2007 breast cancer study published in the Journal of the Egyptian National Cancer Institute found that “about 10 to 25% of lesions are overlooked in mammograms,” and that only two thirds of these missed diagnoses were later caught by oncologists (cancer specialists) or radiologists. Technical problems and human error were both cited as leading causes of a missed cancer diagnosis.
Prostate cancer is especially likely to go undiagnosed. According to a 2014 study published in the International Journal of Cancer, which examined 19 other studies across more than 6,000 patients, tumors were discovered in more than 35% of 70- to 79-year-old Caucasians, and more than 50% of 70- to 79-year-old African-Americans, during autopsy.
Depending on the type, cancer might be misdiagnosed in the following ways:
- Breast Cancer – Non-cancerous cysts, mastitis (inflammation of breast tissue)
- Colorectal Cancer – Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Leukemia – Autoimmune lymphoproliferative syndrome (ALPS), flu, fever, trypanosomiasis (“sleeping sickness”)
- Lung Cancer – Asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis
- Pancreatic Cancer – Gallstones, pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Skin Cancer – Pimples, warts, liver spots, skin tags, benign growths
- Thyroid Cancer – Lyme Disease, Graves Disease (which can cause hyperthyroidism), goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland)
Did My Doctor Commit Medical Malpractice?
All doctors have a duty of care toward their patients. That means doctors are responsible for taking any and all reasonable steps to prevent their patients from dying, being injured, or becoming sick. This duty of care applies to generalists, specialists, pediatricians, dentists, surgeons, and so forth.
If a doctor fails to make a cancer diagnosis which other doctors in the same field would have made under the same set of circumstances, then the doctor who missed the diagnosis could potentially be deemed negligent and thus liable for compensating losses arising from the negligent act, such as surgical costs, the costs of prosthetic limbs, the costs of medical equipment, and the costs of physical therapy.
Some examples of actions which could potentially constitute malpractice include:
- Failing to order lab work, blood testing, etc.
- Ignoring a patient’s requests for testing
- Failing to ask a patient about their symptoms and observations
- Failing to recommend cancer screenings for people in high-risk demographics
- Misdiagnosing cancer as a different disease or condition
- Making paperwork errors resulting in delayed diagnosis
- Failing to refer a patient to a specialist
- Failing to follow up with a patient after a treatment or appointment
As tragic as it is for the victim’s loved ones, a doctor’s failure to save a patient does not automatically mean he or she committed malpractice. Sometimes, even skilled and competent care is unable to prevent a terrible outcome.
However, if you have any suspicions that you or your loved one received poor quality medical care, it is always worth speaking to an attorney. Medical malpractice is a highly complex area of personal injury law, and it isn’t always easy to determine whether doctor negligence has actually occurred. Until you discuss your experience with an attorney, don’t assume that you don’t have a case. You might be entitled to financial compensation.
To set up a free, confidential, no-obligation legal consultation, call personal injury lawyer Brent Wieand at (800) 481-5206. Brent will listen to you, provide you with a clear assessment of your legal situation, and help you understand the ways your case could proceed. Brent is proud to serve the residents of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.