Cancer Misdiagnosis or Failure to Diagnose
Cancer is a leading cause of death in every country in the world and is affecting more people each year. Cancer is a serious disease that can develop anywhere in the body and spread to other body parts. Cancer starts when abnormal cells start to grow out of control and overtake healthy, normal cells. Without healthy cells, your body will not work the way it should and the illness becomes serious. For many people, if cancer is diagnosed in time, it can be successfully treated and they can live full lives after defeating it; however, if left undiagnosed or untreated, cancer will eventually lead to a patient’s death. Unfortunately, a failure to diagnose or a delay in diagnosis of cancer causes devastation for patients. Oftentimes, patients see the disease progress to a point beyond treatment, or one that requires more aggressive treatments.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Cancer?
Most cancers form a growth called a tumor. Not all lumps or growths are cancerous, but once a growth is found, a doctor, often an oncologist, will take a sample from the growth and thoroughly examine the cell or tissue samples under a microscope. The doctor can then diagnose that growth as being malignant, meaning the patient has cancer, or benign, meaning the growth is harmless. Doctors also utilize imaging tests, such as x-rays, CAT scans, and MRIs, to find other growths in the body. If more growths are found via scan, they will also be biopsied to examine them for cancerous cells. In the case of any cancer, from skin to pancreatic, it is vital to diagnose the disease as soon as possible to keep it from metastasizing, or spreading to an organ not affiliated with the original cancer. There are rare forms of cancer called leukemia, which does not form tumors. This type of cancer affects a person’s blood cells and can be found via blood sample and bone marrow biopsy.
How Do Doctors Misdiagnose Cancer?
Correctly diagnosing cancer can be very difficult because some types of cancer are more difficult to find than others. Doctors must run the appropriate diagnostic tests to find the right type of cancer. Misdiagnosis of cancer occurs when doctors fail to order the appropriate tests. Many types of cancer can be easily detected by simple tests, but for a variety of reasons, doctors don’t always pursue the right kind of diagnostic testing. Some of the most common types of tests used to detect cancer include:
- Colonoscopy – This is an exam used to detect any changes or abnormalities in the large intestine (colon) and rectum to detect colon cancer and other conditions.
- Chest X-rays – To detect lung cancer, a chest X-ray is often the first diagnostic test run. An X-ray is a noninvasive diagnostic test that helps physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions. A chest X-ray will provide images of the heart, lungs, airways, blood vessels, and the bones of the spine and chest.
- Fecal occult blood tests – The FOBT is a lab test used to check stool samples for hidden blood. Hidden blood in the stool may indicate colon cancer or polyps in the colon and rectum.
- Mammograms and/or manual breast examinations – These tests are used to detect breast cancer in females and males. A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast tissue. Doctors use a mammogram to look for early signs of breast cancer. Regular mammograms are the best tests doctors have to find breast cancer early.
- PAP smears – A PAP smear can be used to detect cervical cancer. A PAP smear involves taking a small sample of cells from the cervix and testing them for cancer cells.
- Prostate exam – Prostate exams can help detect prostate cancer. The exam usually involves a digital rectal exam and a test for prostate-specific antigen levels.
When health care providers fail to perform these and other critical tests, or when they delay these tests for whatever reason, it may amount to medical negligence. Tests performed in a timely manner, but not evaluated correctly constitute a potential claim of medical negligence.
Certain types of cancers can mimic each other or other medical conditions and doctors who do not confirm a cancer before treating it may be doing more harm than good. This improper treatment for misdiagnosed cancers can have devastating, even deadly, results and amount to medical negligence.
What to Do if It Happens to You
If you feel as though your doctor has misdiagnosed your cancer, or any other illness, seeking a second opinion is always a good idea. A few situations in which you should get a second opinion include:
- Your current doctor does not know the type or extent of your cancer.
- You think your doctor is not taking your cancer diagnosis seriously.
- Your form of cancer is rare and requires a more experienced oncologist.
- You have researched and found that other treatments may be available that your doctor does not want to pursue.
Do not be afraid to speak openly with every doctor you interact with, including the doctor who you may feel has misdiagnosed you. Keep copies of all of your medical records including any pathology results and reports and share those with a doctor who may be able to diagnose you correctly.
Cancer Misdiagnosis Lawyers
If you were diagnosed with cancer in the Philadelphia area and suspect your diagnosis was delayed or botched, you may be able to file a medical malpractice claim. Call the experienced cancer misdiagnosis lawyers at Lopez McHugh LLP immediately for a free consultation to discuss your claim.