Cancer is a frightening word, but today’s treatment methods have increased the survival rate for most types of cancer providing the disease is detected in time. Early detection can mean the difference between life and death for many forms of cancer. For example, some forms of breast cancer have a 95% survival rate when caught at the earliest stage. The key to successful treatment of many types of cancer is an early diagnosis.
While some deaths from cancer are unavoidable, many are the result of misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. In fact, the misdiagnosis of cancer is among the leading causes of all medical errors and medical malpractice lawsuits. When cancer symptoms are misdiagnosed or improperly treated, it can lead to tragic results that could have been prevented with proper diagnosis and treatment.
The misdiagnosis of cancer is among the leading causes of all medical errors and medical malpractice lawsuits.
According to a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine, more than one-third of medical malpractice claims result from a mistake relating to misdiagnosis. Since many cases involving misdiagnoses go unreported, the actual numbers may be even higher. The same study reported that medical errors are the third leading cause of death, right behind heart disease and cancer. In addition, while earlier research on medical misdiagnosis focused primarily on hospital patients, newer studies find that a significant number of patients are being incorrectly diagnosed in outpatient settings such as clinics and doctors’ offices. One reason is that many doctors are overbooked and do not take the necessary time to listen carefully to each patient’s complaints and address their concerns.
In addition, while earlier research on medical misdiagnosis focused primarily on hospital patients, newer studies find that a significant number of patients are being incorrectly diagnosed in outpatient settings such as clinics and doctors’ offices. One reason is that many doctors are overbooked and do not take the necessary time to listen carefully to each patient’s complaints and address their concerns.
Here are some of the medical mistakes that could lead to a misdiagnosis of cancer:
- Misunderstanding or not noticing the nature of a patient’s complaints
- Failing to ask the patient about their symptoms and medical history
- Rushing through an appointment without taking the necessary time to listen to the patient’s complaints and concerns
- Neglecting to order the proper tests, such as an ultrasound as a follow-up to a suspicious mammogram, or a PSA test
- Misreading or misinterpreting test results
- Failing to refer a patient to a specialist for further testing or follow-up
- Ignoring information in the patient’s family history that could indicate increased risk for a particular type of cancer
- Failing to notice a mass or mistaking a malignant mass for one that is benign
- Neglecting to order routine tests, such as a prostate screening for males over age fifty or a mammogram for women over 40
- Failing to test patients who are at risk because of age or ethnicity
- Neglecting to do the proper follow-up with a patient if cancer is suspected
Precautionary Measures for Patients
While many misdiagnoses or delayed cancer diagnoses are caused by physician error, patients also need to be pro-active regarding their own health care.
Here are some of the steps patients should take to help their doctors provide appropriate and timely care:
- Schedule regular physicals and check-ups.
- Follow your doctors’ recommendations for follow-up visits for routine care as well as special conditions such as high blood pressure.
- Bring all concerns regarding pain, discomfort, unusual lumps, marks or masses or other health issues to the attention of your doctor.
- Let your physician know about any family or personal history of cancer.
- Ask questions if you feel you are not being adequately screened for cancer risks relating to your family history, age, gender or ethnic background.
- If in doubt, do not be afraid to seek a second opinion.
- Get regular mammograms. Breast cancer is one of the most treatable cancers if it is detected in its early stages.
- If you feel your doctor rushes through your appointments without listening to and addressing your concerns, consider switching to another physician or practice.
- Remember that regular cancer screening and early diagnosis can greatly increase your prospects for a long and quality life. Most cancer tests are painless, and even those that cause mild discomfort and inconvenience are well worth the time and effort.
Mistaking another Condition for Cancer
Another form of misdiagnosis occurs when a patient is diagnosed with cancer when, in fact, there is no cancer present. This can happen if a doctor misinterprets symptoms or the results of a test such as a mammogram or ultrasound are misread. This kind of cancer misdiagnosis can also be life-threatening if the patient takes unneeded drugs or undergoes unnecessary cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, radiation or even surgery. Another consequence is that whatever medical condition the patient actually has remains untreated, which can result in a worsening of the condition and lead to serious complications or death.
If you or a loved one has suffered because a physician or other medical practitioner has misdiagnosed cancer, contact us as soon as possible. Our experienced team of medical malpractice lawyers will guide you through the legal process.