Can I Sue for Medical Malpractice for a Cancer Misdiagnosis?
May 28, 2021
Misdiagnosis of a medical condition is all too common in the United States. Because many cancers are much easier to cure when they are detected early, a cancer misdiagnosis may result in delayed treatment, causing serious injury or death. Individuals harmed by a cancer misdiagnosis can sue for medical malpractice and seek damages for medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering. Patients should be aware of clues that might indicate a cancer misdiagnosis. Those who have suffered harm from cancer misdiagnosis by a doctor should contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer for assistance.
Why are Cancers Misdiagnosed?
Early detection of cancer is crucial to ensuring the best possible prognosis for a patient. Unfortunately, doctors continue to misdiagnose various types of cancers, for reasons that include but are not limited to the following:
- Doctors do not take the time to obtain a full family history from patients, which may reveal heighted risks for certain types of cancers.
- Doctors too quickly dismiss some cancer symptoms as being the result of less serious diseases.
- Doctors rely on results of just one type of test that may not be fully reliable.
- Doctors fail to order a full battery of tests that would rule out other causes of symptoms.
- Doctors fail to follow the standard medical timeline for prompt diagnosis of cancer.
Also, pathologists who are responsible for examining biopsy specimens may not be experienced in identifying certain types of cancers. Studies indicate that doctors and pathologists pay less attention to cancers that are rare, increasing the risk that individuals with those cancers are more likely to experience delays in treatment.
What Types of Cancers are Commonly Misdiagnosed?
Types of cancers that are commonly misdiagnosed include but are not limited to the following:
- Breast cancer
- Lung cancer
- Skin cancer
In addition, colon cancer, which can be prevented by early detection, often goes undetected because some doctors refrain from ordering colonoscopies, especially for patients who are under age 50 or over 75. However, this practice may be detrimental to patients with a family history of colon cancers.
Do Mammograms Always Detect Breast Cancer?
Early detection and treatment of breast cancer are critical to a patient’s survival. Many types of breast cancers can be fully cured when found early enough. However, according to the Susan G. Komen foundation, mammograms miss approximately 13 percent of all breast cancers. One reason for this is that accuracy is dependent on two things:
- The quality of the image
- The training and experience of the radiologist who reads the image
Radiologists with less experience may be more likely to misinterpret the mammogram image.
Lymphoma and Lung Cancer Symptoms
Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer. Both Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma present symptoms that may look like the flu or an infection, including fever and enlarged lymph nodes. Coughing and other symptoms of lung cancer may also appear to be caused by the flu or a virus. Doctors may also misdiagnose chronic coughing as asthma. Unfortunately, blood cancers and lung cancers can be very aggressive. The survival rate is less than 10 percent after lung cancer reaches stage IV.
Can Skin Cancer be Fatal?
Melanoma is one type of skin cancer that can be fatal. It may be misdiagnosed by family doctors who dismiss marks or patchy areas on the skin as eczema. The standard of care is for general practitioners to refer patients with skin conditions to an experienced dermatologist. Just as with many other types of cancers, a failure to promptly diagnose and treat melanoma can have fatal consequences for patients.
What Clues May Indicate a Cancer Misdiagnosis?
There are several clues for which individuals can be aware that may indicate a cancer misdiagnosis, including the following:
- The doctor did not take the time to get all the information needed to make the correct diagnosis. This includes recording the patient’s complete family history, surgical history, all symptoms, and a list of all the medications and supplements the patient is taking.
- The doctor did not order all available tests. For each type of cancer, there is an established medical timeline of when to use various diagnostic tools.
- The symptoms may look like one or more other illnesses.
- Medicine prescribed by the doctor is not making the condition better.
Patients who have any doubts should get a second opinion. If it is different from the first, they may have been misdiagnosed.
What Should I Do if I Suspect a Cancer Misdiagnosis?
Individuals who suspect a cancer misdiagnosis should explain their fears with a doctor. The patient should ask the doctor how he or she arrived at their diagnosis. It is important to keep detailed notes of the doctor’s response, as well as copies of all tests and medical records. Documenting the timeline of medical treatment is important in determining whether malpractice has occurred. If necessary, the patient should obtain a second opinion. If you believe a misdiagnosis occurred, contact a medical malpractice lawyer to explain your concerns. It is important to note that strict timelines apply to potential medical malpractice cases. An experienced attorney can help answer your questions and protect your rights.
How Do Lawyers Prove Medical Malpractice?
Lawyers prove medical malpractice by carefully reviewing the facts of the case to determine whether the following events occurred, all of which are necessary to support a successful malpractice claim:
- A doctor-patient relationship existed, which means that the doctor had a legal duty to provide care to the patient.
- The doctor breached that duty by failing to provide the standard, accepted level of care.
- This breach caused injury to the patient.
- As a result of the injury, the patient endured financial hardship, pain, and suffering.
Demonstrating the existence of the doctor-patient relationship may involve listening carefully to the client’s explanation of events and reviewing all medical records and any notes the client took at doctor’s visits.
Proving that the doctor failed to provide the standard level of care in cancer misdiagnosis may require assembling a team of medical experts. The experts would likely describe what the accepted clinical practice guidelines are for diagnosing the client’s type of cancer, based on the client’s symptoms, medical history, age, and other factors. If the accepted clinical practice guidelines are different than what the client received, this may indicate that the doctor breached the duty of care.
To determine if the breach caused injury, medical experts may estimate the stage the cancer was at when the client’s doctor failed to diagnose it. This will be compared with the stage the cancer was at when the patient obtained a correct diagnosis. The additional injury caused by this delay may include enduring more aggressive forms of treatment, such as surgery or chemotherapy, that may not have been needed had the cancer been detected earlier. The client may then seek damages for the additional medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering arising from this injury.
It is important to note that a misdiagnosis is not always grounds for medical malpractice. Proving medical malpractice is a complex undertaking, requiring legal skill and a team of medical experts.
The Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP are skilled at recovering full damages for injured patients. Our results include several million-dollar-plus settlements for medical malpractice including misdiagnosis.
Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Advocate for Individuals Who Have Been Harmed by Misdiagnosis
Diagnostic errors contribute to about 10 percent of all patient deaths across all health care settings. Misdiagnosis is the primary reason for most medical malpractice claims. Cancer misdiagnosis can result in delayed treatment, causing unnecessary suffering and pain or even death. The Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP advocate for individuals who have suffered due to misdiagnosis. We have been helping injured individuals and their families for more than 70 years. If you suspect that a cancer misdiagnosis has harmed you or your loved ones, reach out to us. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or contact us online. From our offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we proudly serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Allentown and Harrisburg.