A Doctor's Failure to Timely Diagnose Cancer May Equal Medical Malpractice and Cost a Patient Her Life

Statue holding balance scale

When a medical mistake results in a cancer misdiagnosis, the consequences can be deadly because more and more cancers are survivable if detected early and treated properly. Cancer is a generalized term for a wide group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled cell growth. Cancer can occur in almost any part of the body when cells divide and multiply uncontrollably, usually in various organs or tissue until a malignant tumor is formed. Uncontrolled cell growth continues when cancer is present, and can spread (metastasize) to other organs, until the vital function of a body's organ or organs is disrupted or completely compromised.

Still The Leading Cause Of Death

The American Cancer Society reported in "Cancer Statistics, 2010" that an estimated 1,500 people in the United States died of cancer every day in 2010. Cancer continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States for people between the ages of 40 and 79. Despite these grim statistics, cancer rates have actually declined since peaking in the early 1990's. It should come as no surprise that early and accurate detection is the single most important factor related to a person's likelihood of surviving cancer.

In our country of high tech mammograms, endoscopic ultrasound, MRIs, blood and urine cytology and colonoscopies, it's hard to imagine cancer being overlooked. Still, medical mistakes and misdiagnoses are made too frequently.

Many Are Initially Misdiagnosed

Unfortunately, every year thousands of people with cancer are misdiagnosed, in fact a recent study published in the journal Cancer suggested that about 12% of all cancer patients are initially misdiagnosed. Cancer misdiagnosis can be the result of a doctor failing to order the appropriate diagnostic test, failing to properly perform a tissue biopsy, failing to follow up with a patient suspected of having cancer, or failing to refer a patient to a specialist, among others. It can also occur when laboratory test results are misread or when a malignant tumor is misclassified or misgraded. Sometimes a medical mistake is made in assigning a malignant tumor an erroneous grade as to aggressiveness, which can impact the treatment course prescribed.

Delay May be Deadly

When a doctor misdiagnoses cancer, necessary treatment is delayed. By the time an accurate diagnosis is made, the cancer may have spread or worsened. In many cases, a delay in correctly diagnosing cancer may be considered medical malpractice because many types of cancer respond especially well to early treatment. Sometimes the delay in diagnosing cancer means the opportunity for curative treatment may be lost. In other instances such a medical mistake allows the disease to progress, which may subject a patient to more drastic forms of treatment such as higher doses of chemotherapy or radiation. Sadly, too many patients die from cancer who could have survived if not for a medical mistake in properly diagnosing the disease.

Educate Yourself

If you or your doctor suspects cancer, educate yourself on the different diagnostic and treatment options available. Your life may depend on it. Talk to your doctor; if your doctor has not discussed a screening option that you're aware of, ask why. If your doctor has diagnosed you with cancer, consider getting a second opinion to verify the diagnosis and confirm the different treatment options. If you have been misdiagnosed or feel as though your doctor delayed a proper diagnosis, consider consulting our Portland medical malpractice attorney. Medical negligence that causes you serious health consequences may require you to take legal action.