Missed And Delayed Cancer Diagnosis

Serving Philadelphia, Pennsylvania & New Jersey

While there are many different types of cancer, getting an early diagnosis is important for obtaining the best outcome. Cancer that progresses to a later stage might be difficult or impossible to treat. Unfortunately, many people with cancer are not diagnosed early. A delayed cancer diagnosis can lead to a significantly worsened condition and a poorer prognosis. In some cases, an otherwise treatable cancer can be fatal if it is not caught in time.

If you have cancer, and your doctor failed to diagnose you early, you might have to undergo additional, painful treatments and may have a lower chance of survival. If your doctor missed your cancer and failed to diagnose you until much later, you should consider speaking to a medical malpractice attorney at the law firm of Raynes & Lawn. Our Philadelphia medical malpractice law firm has represented malpractice victims for decades and can explain your legal options and next steps.

Symptoms and Signs of Cancer

The symptoms and signs of cancer vary, depending on the type of cancer, location, and whether it has metastasized or spread to other bodily areas. Certain types of cancer, including colon cancer, might not show early symptoms. Because of this, people should undergo regular screenings for asymptomatic cancers to get them diagnosed at an early stage.

Signs of cancer are symptoms that can be measured by others, while symptoms are things the individual experiences. The following are some of the common signs and symptoms a patient might have cancer:

  • Unexplained weight loss or gain of 10 or more pounds
  • Persistent fever
  • Fatigue
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Lumps in any area of the body
  • Jaundice
  • Sores that won’t heal
  • Bowel or bladder changes
  • Night sweats
  • Vision problems (blurry or double vision)
  • Persistent headaches
  • Mouth changes (numbness, bleeding, or soreness)

The particular symptoms a patient might experience will depend on the type of cancer they have. If cancer has metastasized, a patient might experience symptoms in multiple areas of the body.

Since certain types of cancer might not have early symptoms, patients need to get regular checkups and screenings designed to detect cancer in its early stages.

Some of the types of screenings recommended by the American Cancer Society to detect early cancer include the following:

  • Mammograms to detect breast cancer (annually for women ages 44 and above)
  • Annual PAP screenings to detect cervical cancer (all adult women)
  • Prostate/PSA screening and rectal exams (men 50 and over or younger if there is a family history)
  • Lung cancer screenings for current or former smokers ages 50 and above
  • Colon cancer screening beginning at age 45

Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

As previously mentioned, certain types of cancer might not show early symptoms. This is why doctors might recommend patients undergo specific types of screenings beginning at different ages and based on their family medical history.

When a cancer screening indicates an abnormal result, the doctor might order imaging tests (x-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, ultrasounds, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans) to get a clear picture of the specific region of the body. They might also order blood tests to check for white blood cell counts and other things that might indicate the presence of cancer.

When a patient has symptoms, the doctor might include the suspected type of cancer in a differential diagnosis and then order tests to rule out other potential causes. This is because the symptoms of cancer also might be common symptoms of other conditions.

Once a tumor has been identified, the doctor will perform a biopsy to correctly diagnose the cancer. A needle will be inserted to extract tissue from the area with the abnormal tissue. The sample will be sent to a laboratory for analysis. At the lab, the analysts will determine whether cancer cells are present, determine the stage of cancer, and test the cancer cells for receptors that could affect treatment choices.

Cancer Treatments

Cancer treatments depend on the type of cancer and its stage. Cancers are typically rated from stages I to IV based on the five-year survival rates. Stage I cancer is cancer in its earliest stages. Patients in this stage have the greatest chance of beating cancer. Those whose cancer isn’t detected until stages III or IV face a much poorer prognosis and may only have limited treatment options available.

Once your doctor diagnoses your cancer and determines its stage, they will work with you to develop an appropriate treatment plan. The treatments you might receive include the following:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Surgery
  • Stem cell transplants
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Complementary care
  • Pain and nausea medication
  • Nutritional supplementation

If your cancer is caught in an early stage, you will have more treatment options. If your cancer isn’t diagnosed until a later stage, your treatment options might be more limited. In stages three or four, you might require aggressive treatment that causes multiple side effects. Cancer cells must be detected as soon as possible to prevent metastasis. A delayed diagnosis can result in a reduced chance of survival and a poorer prognosis.

Common Injuries From Cancer Misdiagnoses

People who receive a cancer diagnosis when they don’t have the condition might suffer multiple adverse consequences, including the following:

  • Unnecessary surgeries
  • Removal of body parts
  • Unnecessary chemotherapy or radiation
  • Dangerous side effects from unnecessary cancer treatment
  • Delayed diagnosis and treatment of the patient’s true condition
  • Reconstructive surgeries
  • Rehabilitation
  • Additional medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Disfigurement/scarring
  • Disability
  • Reduced ability to enjoy life

People who do have cancer but have a delayed diagnosis can also suffer multiple consequences, including:

  • Cancer progressing from an early to a late stage
  • Limited treatment options when the cancer is discovered
  • Requirement to undergo aggressive treatment with dangerous side effects that might not have been necessary if the cancer was caught earlier
  • Debilitating injuries
  • Permanent disabilities
  • Death

Why Doctors Misdiagnose Cancer

Doctors might make diagnostic errors with cancer for many reasons. Some doctors fail to spend enough time with patients and listen to their symptoms. Others disregard symptoms and brush them aside. Doctors might fail to refer patients to specialists or order appropriate lab tests. Some physicians might order the right tests but misinterpret the results, and some tests or equipment might be faulty.

When a patient is younger, a doctor might mistakenly assume their symptoms could not possibly be cancer because of their age and fail to order appropriate tests. Doctors might fail to include cancer in a differential diagnosis when the patient’s cancer shares symptoms common in other illnesses.

Types of Compensation Available in a Cancer Misdiagnosis Lawsuit

Compensatory damages in a medical malpractice lawsuit involving a cancer misdiagnosis will depend on the facts and circumstances of the case. This means there is no set value for this type of claim. Instead, your hospital malpractice lawyer will review your medical records and other evidence to calculate your claim’s value and discuss the various categories of damages that might be available.

Compensatory damages are monetary awards that might be given to a plaintiff to compensate them for their economic or special damages and their non-economic or general damages. Economic damages that might be available in a cancer misdiagnosis claim include compensation for your past and future medical expenses, wage losses, rehabilitation costs, physical therapy, and other out-of-pocket expenses you have incurred or will likely incur in the future because of the diagnostic error.

Non-economic damages are monetary awards for the intangible losses a victim suffers because of a cancer diagnostic error. These might include damages for physical pain and suffering, emotional or psychological trauma, disability, reduced ability to enjoy life, disfigurement, scarring, and others.

In wrongful death claims, families might recover compensation for the contributions their loved one would have made over their lifetime if they had lived, lost rights to an inheritance, funeral and burial costs, pain and suffering, grief, and loss of consortium or guidance.

Punitive damages are another type of damages that might be available, but they are only awarded in rare cases in which the doctor’s diagnostic error was particularly egregious. An example might be a diagnostic error that another doctor would not have made that led to the unnecessary removal of a body part or the patient’s death. Punitive damages are meant to punish defendants and are paid in addition to compensatory damages. However, Pennsylvania caps punitive damages at no more than two times the total compensatory damages award.

How Is Medical Malpractice Proven?

Medical malpractice plaintiffs always have the burden of proof when they file lawsuits against doctors, hospitals, and other negligent healthcare professionals involved in misdiagnoses. To prove a doctor’s care amounted to medical malpractice, the plaintiff must admit evidence showing each of the following legal elements occurred by a preponderance of the evidence:

  • The medical standard of care the doctor had to meet
  • Establishment of the doctor-patient relationship
  • The provided treatment fell below the medical standard of care held by the doctor
  • The negligent treatment caused the patient’s injuries
  • Actual damages resulted

Not achieving a good outcome from treatment is not enough to rise to the level of malpractice. Instead, you will need to determine the standard of care the doctor had to meet and show that the care you received deviated from it and caused your injuries.

Pennsylvania requires medical malpractice plaintiffs to file certificates of merit with the court when they file malpractice lawsuits. These are certifications that a medical expert has reviewed the evidence and believes the doctor’s care deviated from the expected standard of care and caused the patient’s injuries.

The medical standard of care varies based on the doctor’s field of practice, experience, skills, and geographic area. For example, a general practice physician would not be expected to meet the same standard as a trained oncologist. Similarly, an oncologist in a rural area of Kansas would not be expected to meet the same standard as an oncologist practicing in Philadelphia.

The standard of care is what a reasonably competent doctor with similar skills, education, and training in the same area and field of practice would have provided in the same treatment conditions. A medical expert will review the medical records and the doctor’s education and training and compare what a reasonably competent doctor would have provided to determine whether the defendant’s care deviated from that standard. If it did fall below the expected standard of care, the expert will work with the medical malpractice attorney to determine whether the deviation caused the patient’s injuries and resulting losses.

Evidence will be required for each of the above-listed elements. If some, but not all, of the elements are proven, the plaintiff will not win their case.

Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

Legal cases have different statutes of limitations that apply, which are deadlines for bringing cases in court. Once a statute of limitations period ends, the plaintiff will not be able to file a lawsuit to recover compensation in court. The limitations period starts to run from the date of the diagnostic error or the date the error was discovered or reasonably should have been discovered. In the case of a cancer misdiagnosis, the limitation period would likely not begin to run until the date the cancer was accurately diagnosed instead of the original date when the error was made. A hospital malpractice lawyer at our medical malpractice law firm can review your case and explain the relevant statute of limitations. It’s important to get help quickly to avoid statute of limitations problems and preserve your rights to compensation.

Consult a Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Attorney

If your cancer was misdiagnosed, or you were diagnosed with cancer and didn’t have it, you might be entitled to compensation for your resulting losses. At Raynes & Lawn, our experienced medical malpractice lawyers have advocated for malpractice victims for more than five decades and can advise you of your rights. Call us today for a free consultation at 1-800-535-1797 or fill out the contact form.

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