According to a study published in a 2013 issue of BMJ Open, one of the most common occurrences of medical malpractice is missed diagnoses. Accounting for 26 to 63 percent of total claims, patients with breast, colorectal and prostate cancers are more likely to be misdiagnosed early on.
What happens when a doctor doesn’t recognize or ignores early signs of cancer? Seventy percent of patients have to contend with a severe outcome and, for 43 percent of this group, the condition proves fatal.
However, if a doctor incorrectly identified the condition early on, is it always considered malpractice? There are several factors to keep in mind before pursuing a claim.
A Professional Standard of Care
For all medical malpractice cases, you and your attorney need to show:
- A doctor-patient relationship existed
- The doctor deviated from the accepted standard of care
- Doing so directly resulted in an injury or another harmful consequence
While the first of these three points is the easiest to prove, the second is more contentious. At this stage, you need to identify what the doctor did or did not do to arrive at the diagnosis. Commonly, medical professionals might fail to include the final diagnosis in their initial list or to request the proper tests.
For cases of cancer, this can be ignoring masses in certain demographics – breast lumps in young, elderly or pregnant women – or dismissing certain symptoms as hormonal. On the other hand, if the doctor does order a test, malpractice may occur when the doctor doesn’t request a biopsy soon enough, if at all.
Along the same line, the doctor may have competently reviewed the results, but the test itself contained errors. Here, the technician who conducted the mammogram or biopsy may be held liable instead.
However, with certain cancers, it’s important to note that a delayed diagnosis doesn’t mean the doctor acted outside of accepted standards. Rather, some forms are more difficult to detect in the early stages. Additionally, benign growths may incorrectly be considered malignant.
Did You Experience an Injury?
For the third stage of medical malpractice cases, you’ll need to prove that the injury you sustained had a negative impact and would not have occurred under the doctor’s usual standard of care. With cancer, there’s another factor to consider: The survival rate.
Typically, delayed diagnosis means a patient needs to contend with late-stage cancer. At this point, the patient often has to undergo stronger chemotherapy, may have the cancer metastasize or may find that the growths no longer respond to treatment. Yet, for a select number of cancers, the survival rate is less than 50 percent. Even when treatment is started early, the patient may still pass away.
On the other hand, a doctor may misdiagnosis a patient’s benign lumps as cancer. As a result, that individual has to start unnecessary chemotherapy and experience the stress of living with a potentially fatal illness. In these instances, the doctor may be held liable for:
- The resulting physical damages
- Monetary damages
- Any emotional anguish.
While most cancer-related medical malpractice claims are related to misdiagnosis, a smaller group stems from surgery. In these cases, plaintiffs allege the procedure to remove a malignant growth went wrong, resulting in additional treatment and costs. Or, negligence occurred during reconstructive surgery, causing physical pain, suffering and emotional distress.
Whether you were misdiagnosed, received a delayed cancer diagnosis or experienced another form of malpractice, Trantolo & Trantolo’s lawyers are here to help. If you believe you have a case, contact us today to learn more.