Lung Cancer Misdiagnosis: Is It Medical Malpractice?

From aches and pains to life-threatening conditions, we’ve come to rely on the expertise of medical professionals as a matter of course. We put our faith in physicians, in their exacting knowledge of the human body and the many ways the body can go wrong.

In the case of lung cancer, we need our faith to be met with care, compassion and competence: the disease kills more people than breast, ovarian, prostate and colon cancer combined.

Misdiagnosed With Lung Cancer

But lung cancer misdiagnoses are astonishingly frequent. Every day, patients across the nation are sped into operating rooms for malignancies they don’t actually have. Meanwhile, others stand in line at the pharmacy, waiting for antibiotics that can’t possibly treat a tumor that was dismissed as pneumonia or tuberculosis.

Lung Cancer Misdiagnosis Statistics Infographic
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Lung cancer’s survival rates are terrifying. According to MedPage Today, 82% of patients with the disease will die before five years have passed. Misdiagnosis certainly contributes to that shocking statistic. Many patients learn of a malignancy too late to receive proper treatment.

Equally horrifying is learning that you’ve been subjected to months or years of chemotherapy for a benign tumor. It’s the same for every type of cancer: the treatments for lung cancer can be just as painful and debilitating as the disease itself.

Do I Have A Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

Every viable cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit is based on a simple principle: there’s a right way to diagnose cancer and there’s a wrong way. In legal circles, we call the right way the “standard of care.”

This standard has been developed over years of research and practical experience, and it’s going to change as we learn more about disease and how to fight it.

It’s every medical professional’s responsibility to adhere to their profession’s standard. Where doctors, technicians or pathologists deviate from that standard and a patient is harmed, they can be held liable for medical negligence.

How We Define A Standard Of Care

In an actual lawsuit, the standard of care will be outlined by an independent expert in lung cancer. They’ll describe how the diagnosis of lung cancer should be approached and what tests are considered useful. Then they’ll evaluate what the negligent doctor or technician did, and describe how those actions violated the standard of care accepted by the medical community.

Since every cancer is unique, standards of care vary widely. But there are several fundamental principles of diagnosis that should never be abandoned:

  • consider a wide range of evidence, not just the results of one test
  • investigate alternative diagnoses and order new testing to check them out
  • attend to all of your patient’s concerns, and never disregard their symptoms

These are basic ethical guidelines, essential to the very idea of being a medical professional. But time and time again, our attorneys speak with patients who were misdiagnosed with lung cancer because of a doctor’s sheer carelessness.

At Marciano & MacAvoy, we believe you deserve better care than that.

3 Signs Of Lung Cancer Misdiagnosis

Some patients already know that they’ve been misdiagnosed, and we urge you to contact us. But others are just becoming aware of a potential problem. Here are 3 of the most common warning signs of misdiagnosed lung cancer.

1. Was My Cancer Confused For Something Else?

Like all malignancies, lung cancer is a classic “mimic”; in it’s early stages, the disease looks very similar to other conditions.

Symptoms like a chronic cough and shortness of breath can be quickly chalked up to tuberculosis and other common respiratory ailments. That’s why doctors have to take a holistic approach to the problem, considering relevant risk factors and ordering new tests to rule out other possibilities.

Symptoms Of Lung Cancer What It’s Misdiagnosed As
  • Cough that won’t go away
  • Odd change in a normal cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain in chest
  • Hoarse voice
  • Wheezing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pain in bones or headache: lung cancer is most likely to metastasize first to either bone or the brain
  • Lymphoma
  • Bronchial pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis
  • Lung nodules: small tissue masses in the lungs that are usually benign
  • Pleural effusion: a collection of fluid between layers of the lungs, often a symptom of mesothelioma – a form of lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure

Lung cancer is often confused for lymphoma, another type of cancer. But the two conditions are very different, and respond to different therapies. A critical mistake during this early period can leave an actual cancer free to metastasize, while patients are forced to undergo ineffective, and often traumatic, treatments.

2. Am I Being Treated For The Wrong Condition?

Vigilance is extremely important; in matters of life and death more than anything else. Surviving lung cancer is a constant battle, even with the best medical attention. But some physicians jump to treatment, before considering other possible diagnoses.

Watch for: treatments that have no effect on your symptoms.

One huge problem rests on the shoulders of radiologists. X-rays and CT scans can reveal signs of abnormal growth in the lungs, but these images are just one piece in the puzzle. Technicians frequently misread diagnostic tests, sending up red flags when there’s actually no danger.

More than 99% of all the questionable nodules spotted on a CT scan aren’t cancerous, according to Everyday Health. That’s true even among smokers.

We should expect doctors to be just as vigilant in this situation, carefully weighing a host of results to come an accurate decision. But an estimated 10% of patients only learn that they’ve been misdiagnosed after undergoing invasive surgery.

Unnecessary Surgery10%

The National Cancer Institute discovered that 1 out of 10 people who are operated on for a suspected lung malignancy are really harboring benign growths.

3. Did My Doctor Take All The Evidence Into Account?

Obviously, smoking is the biggest risk factor for lung cancer; in fact, the Centers for Disease Control says that 90% of all lung cancers are linked to cigarettes. But this consistent correlation shouldn’t be confused for causation, and many smokers will never develop lung cancer.

Sputum tests, frequently given to those at heightened risk for developing lung cancer, can be good indicators. They’re far from conclusive, though. Phlegm doesn’t always contain malignant cells, even in patients with the disease. On the other hand, chronic inflammation can alter cell growth, making non-malignant cells appear cancerous.

Watch for:

  • a doctor who dismisses your symptoms
  • failure to order further testing without adequate explanation

Filing A Cancer Misdiagnosis Lawsuit

The experienced attorneys at Marciano & MacAvoy are dedicated to providing outstanding legal guidance, no matter your personal situation. We understand the extraordinary burden that a lengthy course of cancer treatments can place on a patient’s finances. That’s why we always offer our services on a contingency-fee basis: you pay nothing until we win your case.

Learning more about your legal options comes at no cost, too. Just contact our medical malpractice lawyers today for a free consultation.


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