When a patient has cancer, getting the correct diagnosis can mean the difference between life and death. Unfortunately, missed and delayed diagnosis of cancer does happen. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the second most common cancer for women in the United States. While it can appear in both men and women, it is more common in females. The correct diagnosis and treatment are essential in managing this disease. If you have cancer and were misdiagnosed, it may lead to severe consequences.
Those affected by a misdiagnosis may want to seek legal advice. With the right diagnosis, a patient may be able to fight the cancer and continue to lead a healthy life. However, with the wrong medical information, patients may suffer additional harm, sometimes resulting in severe outcomes. If you had a missed or delayed diagnosis of cancer, you could have a medical malpractice claim. Protect your legal rights by consulting with a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible.
Breast Cancer Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Breast cancer forms in the cells of the breast. While it may be treatable, this disease can turn deadly without proper treatment. With support from researchers, there have been many advances in the diagnosis and treatment of this disease. Today, breast cancer survival rates have increased. These rates are the direct result of early detection, a better understanding of the disease, and a more personalized approach to treatment options.
Breast cancer causes the cells to grow abnormally, and they divide more rapidly than healthy cells. With this rapid growth process, the cells will form a mass or a lump. Those lumps can spread from the breast area to the lymph nodes. Lifestyle, environmental factors, and hormones all can increase your risk for breast cancer. With these known factors, it is critical to schedule regular mammograms to check for early signs of the disease.
There are a few symptoms of breast cancer. They include:
- Change in the shape, size, or appearance of the breast
- Change to the skin over the breast, including dimpling
- Lump in the breast or thickening of the skin that feels different from the surrounding tissue
- An inverted nipple
- Scaling, crusting, flaking, or peeling around the areola or breast skin
- Pitting or redness of the skin over your breast, like an orange
If any of these symptoms appear, it is imperative to seek medical help. Today, there are several procedures to diagnose breast cancer, including:
- Breast exam: The doctor will check the breast and lymph nodes in the armpit for any lumps or abnormalities.
- Mammogram: This procedure is an x-ray of the breast, and the most common way to screen for breast cancer. If an abnormality is detected, the doctor will schedule a diagnostic mammogram.
- Breast ultrasound: This process will produce images of structures within the body. The ultrasound can determine whether the lump in the breast is a fluid-filled cyst or a solid mass.
- Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): The MRI uses radio waves and a magnet to create an interior picture of your breast. Before the procedure, the patient receives an injection of dye in the breast area.
- Biopsy: A biopsy is a definitive way to make a correct diagnosis of breast cancer. The doctor uses a specialized needle to extract core tissue from the abnormal area. The samples are sent to a laboratory for additional analysis. During this time, the cells are examined to determine if they are cancerous and, if so, the cancer’s stage level. If there are cancer cells, they will be tested for hormone receptors that can affect treatment options.
In some cases, doctors will use other procedures and tests to determine a breast cancer diagnosis. Once there is a definite diagnosis, the doctor will determine the stage of the cancer. Each cancer stage has specific treatment options and prognosis for the patient. Breast cancer has several stages that range from 0 to IV. Stage 0 is noninvasive cancer, while stage IV is severe and has spread throughout the body.
According to the American Cancer Society, the rates of beating cancer are as follows:
- Stage I: 100 percent
- Stage II: 93 percent
- Stage III: 72 percent
- Stage IV: 22 percent
Your doctor will determine the breast cancer treatment option for your cancer based on its stage, size, and the cells’ sensitivity to hormones. Many women undergo surgery with additional treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation, or hormone therapy. In some cases, chemotherapy will be used before a surgical procedure.
As you can tell, cancer cells need to be detected as early as possible for treatment to stop the spread to other areas of the body. A delayed diagnosis can lead to more prolonged and intense therapies with a smaller chance of long-term survival. With a misdiagnosis, you can be facing unnecessary medical treatments and costs, including a delay in treating the cancer as it progresses throughout the body.
Types of Injuries Caused by Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis
With a breast cancer misdiagnosis, there are many negative consequences, including:
- Unnecessary surgery, including mastectomy or lumpectomy
- Unnecessary radiation or chemotherapy with dangerous side effects
- Delayed treatment that allows the cancer to metastasize and progress
- Need for rehabilitation and reconstructive surgery
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Physical pain
- Emotional suffering
- Wrongful death
For those who have had a breast cancer misdiagnosis, you know the financial and emotional burden of the treatment process. Medical negligence can cause pain and suffering to the patient and their loved ones.
Common Causes of Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis
There are several ways that a medical professional can misdiagnose cancer. For many women, doctors use mammograms for early cancer detection, but mammograms can produce errors with devastating effects. Mammograms use low-energy X-rays to provide doctors with images of the tissues inside the breast. Doctors interpreting those images may miss signs of cancer that are present in the images. There are two reasons to use mammograms: to screen for cancer and to diagnose the severity of the disease. Regardless of the reason for using mammography, if the results are misinterpreted, it may lead to a misdiagnosis for the patient.
Ultrasound is another kind of imaging doctors use to assess breast health, usually when following up on suspicious findings revealed in a mammogram. Ultrasound uses sound waves with frequencies higher than people can hear to create images of breast tissue. Doctors sometimes miss suspicious findings revealed by ultrasound images.
The breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) exam uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the breast, and a radiologist reads the results. If the MRI is read incorrectly, there could be a breast cancer misdiagnosis, which can lead to unnecessary or delayed cancer treatment.
These imaging results and the patient’s health are incorporated into the overall clinical picture for the patient. When the medical professional fails to assess the health of the patient correctly, it could be negligence. The physician must take into account the imaging results and the symptoms of the patient to accurately diagnose cancer. The failure to make proper treatment recommendations or an image interpretation error may lead to a breast cancer misdiagnosis for the patient.
Compensation You May Be Able To Recover If Your Cancer Was Misdiagnosed
If you have been the victim of a missed or delayed cancer diagnosis, you are entitled to two basic types of compensation: economic and non-economic damages.
- Economic damages: These damages are meant to reimburse the patient for actual and measurable expenses, including medical costs, present and future lost wages, rehabilitative costs, and ongoing health and disability costs.
- Non-economic damages: These damages are designed to compensate the patient for non-tangible losses, including emotional suffering, physical pain, disfigurement, and loss of quality of life.
In rare cases, the healthcare provider may have made an egregious diagnosis that results in the unnecessary removal of the breast or a fatal progression of the cancer. In those instances, the patient or their loved ones can receive punitive damages from the doctor. These damages are above the compensatory awards. They are used to punish the defendant and serve as a deterrent to others that may be engaged in reckless behavior.
Proving Medical Malpractice
Advances in mammography screenings have led to earlier detection of breast cancer with a higher survival rate. Despite all the positive impacts, there are still mistakes that can occur. A delay in cancer diagnosis can have irreversible effects on the patient, which can impact the survival rate and course of treatment. A doctor needs to exercise reasonable care when providing medical treatment. When the healthcare provider fails to follow accepted standards of care, then there may be a valid case for medical malpractice.
When the doctor is diagnosing or treating cancer, there are accepted standards of care, including:
- Referring the patient to the right specialist or facility for additional tests or exams
- Performing a thorough and complete physical exam based on the patient’s symptoms
- Creating an appropriate treatment plan
- Ordering and interpreting laboratory tests or imaging studies correctly
Time is critical when it comes to a suspected case of breast cancer. Your medical professional should act under those accepted levels of care to treat your symptoms. In some cases, doctors fail to live up to those standards, which leads to negligence in care.
Medical malpractice occurs when the doctor’s negligence harms the patient. There are a few basic requirements for a malpractice case, including:
- A doctor-patient relationship: You must prove that you hired the doctor for your medical treatment. If the doctor has agreed to see you and has provided treatment, then it is easy to confirm the doctor-patient relationship.
- The doctor was negligent: Merely having a bad medical outcome or being unhappy with the treatment does not establish a medical malpractice case. The doctor must have been negligent in performing your diagnosis or treatment. You have to show, through the opinions of a medical expert, that the doctor deviated from the standard of care, meaning the doctor did something that a reasonable doctor would not have done in a similar situation. The doctor is not required to provide the best possible care but “must have the same knowledge and skill and use the same care normally used in the medical profession.” This requirement is often at the heart of a medical malpractice claim. All states require the medical professional to treat the patient according to the appropriate medical standard of care.
- The doctor’s negligence caused the injury: Many cases of medical malpractice involve patients who were already sick or injured. Your doctor did not give you cancer. You must prove that the actions of the doctor caused additional harm. For example, someone with breast cancer must demonstrate that the doctor’s misdiagnosing the disease or failing to provide proper treatment caused injuries beyond what you would have suffered if it had been properly diagnosed or treated. For a successful medical malpractice claim in Pennsylvania and some other states, the patient may prove causation by showing that the doctor’s negligence increased the risk of harm to the patient.
- The injury led to specific damages: If the doctor performed below the accepted standard in the field with no harm, then the patient cannot sue for malpractice. Lost wages, physical pain, mental anguish, and medical costs all must be the result of the doctor’s negligence in diagnosing and treating the patient.
Statute of Limitations for Missed Cancer Diagnosis Cases
Every state has its own time guideline for medical malpractice cases. In general, a lawsuit must be started within the time frame set forth by your particular state under a law called the “statute of limitations.” After the statute of limitations has passed, the patient can no longer pursue any legal claims for missed or delayed diagnosis. However, this period may be extended if the patient did not have any reason to know their doctor misdiagnosed their cancer, for example if you were told you were cancer-free, only to learn later that you actually had cancer. Also, cases for minors are treated differently.
If you have been affected by a delayed or misdiagnosed cancer diagnosis, you need to contact an attorney to handle your case. By waiting to seek compensation, you can limit your legal options.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a Missed or Delayed Cancer Diagnosis Lawsuit?
If you suspect you have been misdiagnosed or received improper cancer treatment, you should seek legal advice. You need to find an attorney who handles misdiagnosis and delayed cancer malpractice claims. The experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer will investigate whether you have been a victim of medical negligence.
If you have questions about your cancer malpractice claim, contact the legal team at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer. Please take a few minutes and fill out the contact form at rayneslaw.com or call us at (800) 535-1797, and someone from our team will get back to you as soon as possible to discuss your potential claim.
For the general public: This Blog/Website is made available by the law firm publisher, Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer, for educational purposes. It provides general information and a general understanding of the law but does not provide specific legal advice. By using this site, commenting on posts, or sending inquiries through the site or contact email, you confirm that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and the Blog/Website publisher. The Blog/Website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.
For attorneys: This Blog/Website is informational in nature and is not a substitute for legal research or a consultation on specific matters pertaining to your clients. Due to the dynamic nature of legal doctrines, what might be accurate one day may be inaccurate the next. As such, the contents of this blog must not be relied upon as a basis for arguments to a court or for your advice to clients without, again, further research or a consultation with our professionals.
Let me know if you have any questions.