For thousands of years, cancer meant death unequivocally. That’s no longer true. Thanks to radical procedures and therapies, many patients do get better and are able to live long, fulfilling lives. Some aren’t so fortunate.
Few patients ever learn that they’ve lost months or years to a late diagnosis. But thousands of cancer diagnoses are delayed, and patients with rapidly metastasizing tumors are left without the treatments that could extend those precious moments with family and friends.
Late Cancer Diagnosis: Was It Medical Malpractice?
Delayed diagnosis may actually be the rule, not the exception. In fact, it’s hard to find a cancer patient who didn’t visit their doctor with the same symptoms three, four or five times before being referred to a specialist. But diagnosing cancer is difficult, and even the most competent, well-educated physicians fail to catch every tumor before its spread. So how do we know when a delay in diagnosis is actually medical malpractice?
It all comes down to two questions:
- did a doctor violate their standard of care?
- did the delay adversely impact your chances of survival?
1. Violating The Standard Of Care
We can’t expect general practitioners to understand every nuance of a particular cancer; that’s where oncologists come in. Noticing the common symptoms of malignancy, ordering tests to investigate further and making referrals to a specialist? Those are intuitive steps that every primary care physician should take.
That’s a doctor’s duty; their “standard of care.” When physicians fail to uphold that basic standard, and patients are hurt, they can be held liable in a delayed or misdiagnosis lawsuit.
2. Reducing A Patient’s Likelihood Of Survival
A violation isn’t enough, though. To win a late diagnosis claim, we’ll have to show that a delay in catching your or your loved one’s cancer caused some actual harm.
Most cancers are treatable if caught at an early stage. When left to spread, survival rates plummet. To determine how a late diagnosis harmed a patient, our lawyers rely on experts in oncology and radiology. Guided by their knowledge, we determine:
- when a patient’s cancer could have been diagnosed and what their likelihood of survival would have been at that time, and
- what the patient’s likelihood of survival was at the time of their delayed diagnosis.
Here’s an example:
A patient is diagnosed with breast cancer, but by the time her disease is caught, it’s metastasized to her lymph nodes and liver. That’s Stage IV breast cancer, with a 5-year survival rate of 22%, according to the American Cancer Society.
Several months earlier, a routine mammogram revealed evidence of a small tumor in one breast without any sign that it had spread. Most likely, this would have been classified as Stage 1 breast cancer, with a remarkably high 5-year survival rate of 100%.
Now look at the difference: 100% drops to 22%. It’s a radical, tragic change and would certainly constitute harm if the failure to diagnose was the result of a violation of the standard of care. Note that this all depends on the type of cancer involved. Some malignancies, like colorectal cancers, grow very slowly in most patients. Which means that even a delay of years may have no demonstrable effect on the likelihood that a patient will survive.
Why Is Cancer Diagnosed Late?
Some diagnoses are late because patients aren’t aware of cancer’s common symptoms, or delay addressing their concerns. But many are caused directly by a doctor’s negligence.
- Insufficient examination by a general practitioner
- Failure to investigate symptoms
- Attributing symptoms of cancer to a benign condition
- False negative test results due to technician error
In 2008, researchers in Sweden found that men experience longer delays in diagnosis than women, and rich people don’t have to wait as long as the rest of us.
Should I File A Delayed Diagnosis Of Cancer Lawsuit?
A cancer diagnosis forces us to face difficult questions. As experienced medical malpractice attorneys, we know well the world of doubt, anxiety and insecurity into which cancer patients are thrown.
Many of the people we speak to begin questioning the choices they’ve made in the past, the time lost to anger and regret. But the future’s uncertainty also comes into view. As the reality of death approaches, the quality of life left for family and loved ones becomes a major concern.
That’s why patients who have been hurt by a delayed cancer diagnosis turn to Marciano & MacAvoy. We just want to help. To learn more about your legal options, call our lawyers now for a free consultation.