Why Colon Cancer is Misdiagnosed and What to Do

Why is colon cancer misdiagnosed and what can you do about it? Doctors discover colon cancer misdiagnosis.

Colon cancer is an aggressive form of intestinal cancer, making early detection and treatment critical. If someone is diagnosed with colorectal cancer in its early stages, they will have a much higher chance of surviving. Unfortunately, many people are not diagnosed with colon cancer until the disease has progressed to a more advanced stage. In some cases, this is because of a diagnostic error. Doctors might also misdiagnose someone with colon cancer when they have a different condition, leading to the patient receiving unnecessary treatment and undergoing significant emotional and psychological trauma. Unfortunately, colon cancer misdiagnosis is common.

If your doctor failed to correctly diagnose your colon cancer or diagnosed you with cancer when you have a different condition, you might have suffered serious injuries and emotional harm. A colon cancer misdiagnosis might be a valid basis for a medical malpractice claim, depending on the circumstances and facts. To help you understand why colon cancer might be misdiagnosed and your legal options, here is some information from the misdiagnosis attorneys at the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania law firm of Raynes & Lawn.

Key Takeaways

  • Early detection of colon cancer is crucial for better survival rates. Misdiagnoses can lead to delayed treatment and worsened outcomes.
  • Understanding the stages of colon cancer is vital. Early-stage diagnoses significantly improve survival, while advanced stages limit treatment options and reduce survival rates.
  • Recognizing colon cancer symptoms, such as changes in bowel habits, abdominal discomfort, and unexplained weight loss, is essential for timely intervention.
  • Several conditions share symptoms with colon cancer, leading to potential misdiagnoses. Proper differentiation is crucial as some of these conditions are treatable.
  • Establishing a strong case in a medical malpractice lawsuit requires thorough documentation of the doctor-patient relationship, evidence of professional negligence, a clear link between negligence and harm, and comprehensive proof of damages.
  • Seeking guidance from experienced legal professionals like Raynes & Lawn is crucial for navigating the complexities of the legal process and maximizing the chances of a successful claim.

What Is Colon Cancer?

Colon cancer is a term that refers to a type of cancer to forms in the colon. The colon is the large intestine. The term colon cancer is also typically used to refer to cancers of the rectum, which is the final section of the large intestine. Together, cancers forming in the colon or rectum are classified as colorectal cancer.

Not counting skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer diagnosed in the U.S. The American Cancer Society estimates that 106,970 new colon cancer cases will be diagnosed in 2023 along with 46,060 rectal cancer cases.

Even though it is among the most common types of cancer in the U.S., it is also often misdiagnosed. This is unfortunate since colon cancer is responsive to treatment if it is caught in its early stages. In later stages, it becomes much more aggressive and harder to treat.

Colon Cancer Stages

Like other types of cancer, colon cancer is divided into different stages determined by how far the disease has advanced. Colon cancer’s stage is determined by the number of intestinal wall layers through which the cancer has spread and how many other areas the cancer has spread to. The main categories of colon cancer, excluding sub-stages, include the following:

  • Stage I Colon Cancer: Characterized by cancer growing in the intestinal lining but has not penetrated the inner layers of the intestinal wall
  • Stage II Colon Cancer: Characterized by cancer that has spread into the muscular layer beneath the intestinal lining
  • Stage III Colon Cancer: Cancer that has spread into the connective tissue outside of the muscular layer or into the abdomen but has not yet metastasized to distant organs or structures
  • Stage IV Colon Cancer: Cancer that has metastasized to distant organs that have cancerous tumors growing inside

People who are diagnosed early with colon cancer have a strong chance of survival. More than 90% of people diagnosed with colon cancer in stages I or II live for five or more years. Unfortunately, a delayed diagnosis of colon cancer can greatly decrease the survival rate. Just 11% of people diagnosed with Stage IV cancer will live for five years.

What Are the Symptoms of Colon Cancer?

One reason why people might not receive an early diagnosis of colon cancer is that many do not experience symptoms during the condition’s early stages. When symptoms do appear, they vary based on the location within the intestine and the tumor’s size. People who experience any symptoms of colon cancer should immediately see a doctor.

People with colon cancer might experience the following symptoms:

  • Changes in the consistency, shape, and size of stools
  • Changes in bowels, including constipation or diarrhea
  • Bloody stools
  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort (pain, cramps, gas)
  • Fatigue/weakness that doesn’t go away with rest
  • Unexplained and unintended weight loss

Why Might Colon Cancer Be Misdiagnosed?

As previously noted, many people experience no symptoms during the early stages of colon cancer. When people do experience symptoms, their symptoms might vary. Several other diagnoses share similar symptoms. A doctor might fail to include colon cancer in a differential diagnosis or overlook test results. They might also wrongly diagnose someone with colon cancer when they have a much less serious disease. In some cases, a doctor might fail to diagnose a patient with any health problem.

When a person is not promptly diagnosed with colon cancer, the disease can progress. Colon cancer that progresses to a later stage can mean the patient’s treatment options might be drastically limited. For example, advanced colon cancer can’t be treated laparoscopically. Patients who are misdiagnosed might need to undergo additional chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries, and they have a higher chance of the cancer returning. Unfortunately, a colon cancer misdiagnosis can be fatal.

It’s important to seek a second opinion whenever you receive a diagnosis to ensure you’re receiving the right treatment.

Overlapping Symptoms That Lead to Misdiagnosis

The following conditions have overlapping symptoms with colon cancer and could be misdiagnosed as cancer or diagnosed instead of the patient’s colon cancer:

  • Celiac disease
  • Intestinal ischemia
  • Benign polyps
  • Uremia
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Peritonitis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Stomach cancer
  • Kaposi sarcoma

These medical conditions each require treatment that differs from the treatment provided for colon cancer. In some cases, the above-listed conditions are curable.

If you were diagnosed with one of these conditions and continue to experience symptoms despite treatment, you should consult a doctor who treats patients with colon cancer. If you have colon cancer and were misdiagnosed or are receiving treatment for a condition you don’t have, you might want to speak to a hospital malpractice lawyer.

How Is Colon Cancer Diagnosed?

While more than 100,000 new colon cancer diagnoses each year, approximately 50,000 deaths attributed to colorectal cancer occur. This demonstrates the aggressiveness of colorectal cancer. For a positive outcome, colon cancer normally will require early, aggressive treatment, making an early diagnosis crucial for survival.

Colon cancer might be diagnosed when a patient presents symptoms or through routine colonoscopy screens. A colonoscopy is a procedure during which a camera attached to a tube is inserted through the patient’s rectum to look for abnormalities. The patient is under general anesthesia and will not experience any discomfort during a colonoscopy. If abnormal polyps are identified, the doctor will take a small tissue sample for testing. Colon cancer diagnosed through a colonoscopy will be classified, and a treatment regimen will be developed with the patient.

Doctors might also use a computerized tomography (CT) scan or a virtual colonoscopy. This is a less invasive technique the doctor can use to obtain multiple pictures of the patient’s colon to look for abnormalities.

Newer screening methods are also available, such as Cologuard. With this test, patients can send in fecal samples to a lab. The lab will analyze the samples to look for abnormal cells and/or blood. If abnormalities are found, the patient will then be referred for further testing through a colonoscopy.

Common Diagnostic Errors

Colon cancer can be misdiagnosed, or doctors might fail to diagnose the condition or diagnose it when it is too late. Some patients with colon cancer have been misdiagnosed with other bowel conditions, including colitis, diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Patients who have these conditions might similarly be misdiagnosed with colon cancer.

IBS vs. Colon Cancer Misdiagnosis

A patient with IBS might experience similar symptoms to a patient with colon cancer, including a swollen stomach, appetite loss, abdominal pain, and fatigue. If a patient is diagnosed with IBS but continues to experience symptoms despite treatment, they should consult a doctor who treats colon cancer for a second opinion.

Diverticulitis vs. Colon Cancer Misdiagnosis

Patients with diverticulitis have growths in the digestive tract called diverticula that become inflamed. The inflammation can cause similar symptoms to colon cancer, including rectal bleeding, changes in bowels, and severe abdominal pain. Patients with a diagnosis of diverticulitis who do not respond to treatment should seek a second opinion.

Celiac Disease vs. Colon Cancer Misdiagnosis

Celiac disease, an immune reaction to gluten, can share symptoms with colon cancer, leading to potential misdiagnoses. Patients with celiac disease might experience chronic digestive discomfort, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue, which can be misconstrued as indicators of colon cancer. Properly differentiating between these conditions is crucial for appropriate treatment and management.

Intestinal Ischemia vs. Colon Cancer Misdiagnosis

Intestinal ischemia occurs when blood flow to the intestines is restricted, leading to severe abdominal pain and potential bowel damage. The symptoms of this condition can mimic those of colon cancer, resulting in possible misdiagnoses. Prompt and accurate differentiation is essential for ensuring appropriate medical interventions and preventing further complications.

Benign Polyps vs. Colon Cancer Misdiagnosis

Benign polyps, noncancerous growths in the colon, might present symptoms similar to those of colon cancer. This includes rectal bleeding and changes in bowel habits. Distinguishing between benign polyps and malignant growths is critical for avoiding unnecessary anxiety and ensuring suitable medical management for the patient’s condition.

Uremia vs. Colon Cancer Misdiagnosis

Uremia, a condition associated with kidney failure, can exhibit symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. These symptoms can overlap with certain manifestations of colon cancer. Accurate diagnosis and differentiation are crucial in preventing unnecessary treatments and ensuring the appropriate medical care tailored to the patient’s specific condition.

Fecal Incontinence vs. Colon Cancer Misdiagnosis

Fecal incontinence, characterized by the inability to control bowel movements, can sometimes be misinterpreted as a symptom of colon cancer. Misdiagnosis happens when incontinence happens alongside other gastrointestinal issues. Identifying the underlying cause of fecal incontinence is pivotal in preventing misdiagnoses and facilitating effective treatment strategies for the patient’s condition.

Peritonitis vs. Colon Cancer Misdiagnosis

Peritonitis, inflammation of the abdominal lining, can share symptoms with advanced stages of colon cancer, leading to potential diagnostic errors. Recognizing the distinguishing features between these conditions is crucial. Doctors need to implement timely and appropriate medical interventions, thereby ensuring the best possible outcomes for the patient’s health.

Ulcerative Colitis vs. Colon Cancer Misdiagnosis

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that is commonly confused with colon cancer. Someone with ulcerative colitis has chronic symptoms, and the condition is incurable. Since the symptoms are chronic, it can be difficult to determine whether the patient is receiving appropriate treatment. The symptoms vary based on the severity and location of the condition but can include rectal bleeding, rectal pain, unexplained weight loss, or abdominal cramps.

Hemorrhoids vs. Colon Cancer Misdiagnosis

Hemorrhoids involve swollen, infected veins in the anus and rectum. This painful inflammation might occur inside of the rectum or at the opening of the anus. Internal hemorrhoids inside of the rectum are commonly misdiagnosed as colon cancer. If left untreated, hemorrhoids can cause rectal bleeding, discomfort, pain, and itchiness.

Beginning a Colon Cancer Malpractice Claim

When considering a potential medical malpractice claim linked to the misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose colon cancer, it is crucial to thoroughly establish the key elements that underpin the case. These elements are essential in demonstrating the negligence or wrongdoing of the healthcare provider and building a strong legal argument to seek appropriate compensation for the damages incurred.

1. Valid Doctor-Patient Relationship

The foundation of any malpractice claim rests on the existence of a valid doctor-patient relationship between the affected individual and the healthcare provider in question. This relationship serves as the basis for the establishment of professional responsibilities and the corresponding duty of care owed to the patient.

2. Breach of Professional Duty of Care

The next critical step involves presenting demonstrable evidence that highlights a breach of the standard professional duty of care by the healthcare provider. In the context of colon cancer misdiagnosis, this might entail showcasing instances where the healthcare provider deviated from the accepted protocols or failed to adhere to the standard procedures for timely and accurate diagnosis.

3.Causal Link to Patient’s Injuries

To strengthen the case, it is imperative to establish a clear causal link that directly connects the breach of the professional duty of care to the patient’s injuries or aggravated health outcomes. Providing a comprehensive overview of how the healthcare provider’s negligence resulted in delayed treatment, disease progression, or exacerbated physical and emotional suffering is vital in demonstrating the impact of the misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose.

4. Verifiable Proof of Actual Damages

Alongside the evidence of the causal link, substantiating the actual damages suffered by the patient due to the delayed or misdiagnosed colon cancer is critical. This might encompass a range of tangible and intangible losses, including the physical pain endured, emotional distress experienced, financial burdens incurred, and any adverse impacts on the patient’s overall quality of life.

5. Expert Legal Support

Given the intricacies involved in medical malpractice cases, seeking the guidance and representation of a seasoned and reputable medical malpractice attorney is crucial. A skilled attorney can navigate the complexities of the legal process. This means assisting in gathering compelling evidence, liaising with expert witnesses to strengthen the case, and proficiently advocating for the rights and interests of the affected individuals.

With a dedicated legal team by their side, impacted patients can pursue the appropriate legal recourse and seek the rightful compensation they deserve for the harm caused by the misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose colon cancer.

Consult a Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Attorney

If your colon cancer was misdiagnosed as a different condition, or if you were diagnosed with colon cancer instead of the condition you have, you might have grounds to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit against your doctor. The lawyers for medical lawsuits at Raynes & Lawn can analyze your medical records. They will also determine whether your doctor’s error amounted to medical negligence and explain the legal options that might be available. Call us at 1-800-535-1797 for a free consultation.


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