Read anything written by a cancer patient or survivor and you’ll quickly notice a glaring reality: the vast majority are initially misdiagnosed. Turn to statistics and you’ll find that cancers of the female reproductive system are among the hardest to spot.
But at Marciano & MacAvoy, we prefer to think in terms of people, not numbers. That’s not an empty platitude. Every human’s physical makeup is unique, and those personal differences have a drastic effect on the growth of malignant cells and their proper treatment. Which means that medical professionals have to think of people first, too.
Tragically, many don’t.
Misdiagnosed Gynecologic Cancer: Was It Medical Malpractice?
Thousands of patients every year are told they don’t have cancer when they do. Physicians say “lighten up, it’s just stress” or reduce troubling symptoms to a benign disease. All the while, an ovarian, cervical or uterine malignancy is allowed to spread, metastasize and grow beyond the point of treatment. Other women are thrown into nights of anxiety and days of agonizing treatment, for gynecologic cancer they don’t have.
Misdiagnoses like these are common; according to researchers from the British Medical Journal, almost 5 out of every 100 Americans will receive an inaccurate cancer diagnosis.
Some of these people have fallen victim to medical negligence, but many will never learn that their cancer could have been stopped or that years of debilitating chemotherapy were unnecessary.
What Is Medical Negligence?
Misdiagnosed cancer becomes medical negligence when a health professional deviates from the standard of care. That might sound like legal jargon, but it comes down to a basic ethical principle.
For obvious reasons, medicine is no different. We expect our physicians and technicians to understand the conditions they diagnose and treat. We should be able to expect that.
Defining “Standard Of Care”: How Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Are Won
In a lawsuit, we’ll define the standard of care by asking another medical expert. For a case involving cervical cancer, an attorney will consult with an expert in diagnosing cervical cancer. Then the expert will review what your doctor did, and answer a basic question: “is this what a reasonable, competent physician with the same training and expertise would have done?”
The world of battling cancer is highly-specialized. General practitioners, obstetrician/gynecologists (both specialized oncologists and not), radiologists and pathologists: it’s likely that every patient’s life will be touched by all of these professionals at least once on their journey from diagnosis to treatment.
But for each profession, a rigorous standard of care dictates the practitioner’s basic responsibilities to a patient. In many cases, medical negligence is shockingly simple:
- a doctor failed to order an appropriate test
- a radiologist improperly operated one of their instruments
- a physician failed to address their patient’s symptoms
- a doctor relied on one test result to make a diagnosis, rather than gathering a wealth of evidence
It doesn’t take a trained physician to understand that these are essential steps in tackling cancers that kill an estimated 28,450 women every year.
Ovarian Cancer Misdiagnosis
Look at the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition’s recent survey, and you learn that about two-thirds of women with the disease are diagnosed incorrectly before their doctors get it right. Most of them turn to their physicians with painful symptoms, are quickly diagnosed and sent home without any extra testing. But that diagnosis was wrong, and those unordered tests could have identified the cancer causing their early symptoms.
Symptoms Of Ovarian Cancer: Misinterpreted In Majority Of Women
According to the American Cancer Society, the symptoms of ovarian cancer are often caused by other conditions, many of which are far more common than a malignancy. In fact, most of the early signs are just as likely to be experienced by women without any form of cancer.
|Symptoms Of Ovarian Cancer||What They’re Mistaken For|
Obviously, diagnosing ovarian cancer based on symptoms alone is difficult. But that doesn’t mean physicians should jump to more likely conclusions first. We rely on these people to get it right, especially in matters of life and death. This simply means that the doctors and technicians we implicitly trust should take all of our concerns into account, order multiple tests and base their life-altering judgments on thorough evidence.
First, Second & Third Opinions
But even after multiple screenings, some cases of ovarian cancer continue to spread unchecked.
That’s what happened to Joan, who received an ovarian cancer misdiagnosis from nine separate physicians. Despite the fact that she experienced nearly every possible sign of ovarian cancer, Joan’s accurate diagnosis only came after she “insisted” on undergoing a surgical procedure.
If stories like this are any indication, diagnosing cancer can be an act of will on the part of a suffering patient, rather than the result of a doctor’s expertise and care. We think that’s unconscionable.
Fran Drescher, whose uterine cancer famously went undiagnosed by seven doctors, suggests a troubling possibility: it’s just easier to treat benign conditions, so doctors look for those and dismiss any other possibility. But easy doesn’t save lives.
Only transvaginal ultrasounds and a specific blood test have been found effective in detecting tumors present on ovaries. But the blood test is very easy to over- or under-interpret. For their part, radiologists and ultrasound technicians often fall prey to “poor technique, failures of perception, lack of knowledge and misjudgment.” That scathing indictment comes directly from the World Journal of Radiology.
Misdiagnosed Cervical Cancer
Every year, around 40 million American women get Pap smears, the “gold standard” for diagnosing cervical cancer. The idea of analyzing cells scraped from the cervix for anomalies was first introduced in the 1940’s, and the technique has only become more advanced and effective.
Pap tests are most frequently interpreted by cytotechnologists, highly-specialized pathologists. And while you may have never heard of their profession, behind the scenes certainly doesn’t mean free of responsibility.
Should Women Trust Pap Smears?
Not if recent statistics are any indication.
In anywhere from 15% to 40% of cases, a Pap smear will return a “false negative,” inaccurately suggesting no evidence of cancerous growth. False positives are also more rule than exception, and many women undergo radical hysterectomies because they’ve been incorrectly diagnosed with a malignant tumor.
There’s no doubt that a large portion of these misdiagnoses are caused by doctor mistakes, rather than the natural difficulty of detecting cancer. In fact, because many women receive Pap tests annually, diagnoses often come “late” by default. How likely is it that cervical cells became malignant the very same year you were diagnosed, and not one or two years before?
Am I Receiving Treatment That Works?
Medical negligence doesn’t just occur during initial diagnosis. Several tests can be performed after a diagnosis to “stage” a cancer, or determine how far the disease has spread. CT scans and blood tests become critical indicators, since cancers will respond differently to treatment at different stages.
Shockingly, many women are correctly diagnosed with cancer, but placed in the wrong “stage.” Once the mistake is rectified, it may already be too late. Even after a patient is changed to a more appropriate course of treatment, the months or years of ineffective radio or chemotherapy have caused crippling pain and anguish.
Can I File A Medical Malpractice Claim?
The lawyers at Marciano & MacAvoy have secured millions for women and men misdiagnosed with cancer by negligent medical professionals.
We’re here for the fighters, the survivors. Whether you were misdiagnosed with cancer or a benign condition yourself, or want to honor the memory of a loved one, our experienced medical malpractice attorneys are ready to fight, too.
Call our lawyers today for a free consultation.