According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 1,666,540 Americans will receive a cancer diagnosis in 2014.
Some of these cancer patients will receive an advanced diagnosis of cancer, caused by a physician’s delay in diagnosis, or misdiagnosis, of cancer. An article published in the Journal of American Medical Association suggests that “cases of delayed, missed, and incorrect diagnosis are common, with an incidence in the range of 10% to 20%.”
It boils down to time– early detection is necessary for cancer patients to take advantage of less invasive, and more effective, cancer treatments.
Sadly, a missed diagnosis permits the patient’s cancer to metastasize, often necessitating chemotherapy, bone marrow transfusions, radiation therapy affecting organ and tissue function, and cancer surgery leaving the patient permanently scarred. A stage 4 cancer diagnosis is practically a death sentence.
Take breast cancer, for example, the most common form of cancer among females. A delayed diagnosis of breast cancer may have a significant impact if it is diagnosed in a later stage.
According to 5 year survival rates provided by the American Cancer Society, women with stage 4 breast cancer have a significantly lower chance of beating cancer than women with a stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis:
- 100% for stage 1;
- 93% for stage 2;
- 72% for stage 3; and
- 22% for stage 4.
Other forms of cancer have lower survival rates at the earlier stages of cancer. Colon cancer, or bowel cancer, is one of the most common cancers and, with early diagnosis, is one of the most treatable cancers.
The prognosis for a cancer patient with stage 1 colon cancer is markedly better than that of a patient with stage 2 colon cancer:
- 93% for stage 1;
- 78% for stage 2;
- 59% for stage 3; and
- 8% for stage 4.
A missed cancer diagnosis places a significant physical, emotional, and financial burden on cancer patients and their loved ones. A skilled cancer malpractice attorney helps the patient, and their loved ones, investigate the patient’s medical history to determine whether the missed cancer diagnosis was the result of a preventable medical error.
Why Time is of the Essence
Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Cancer cells do not die. If left untreated, they continue to form new abnormal cells. These cells then invade other tissues. In most cases, cancer cells form a tumor. In other cases, like leukemia, the cancer cells remain in the bloodstream, and are circulated throughout the body.
Finding cancer cells, or tumors, as early as possible is important to treat, or remove, them before they spread to other areas of the body, or form large tumors. A delay in diagnosis can result in longer, more intense, treatment, and a much smaller chance of long-term survival. A misdiagnosis can lead to unnecessary medical costs and treatment, in addition to the delay in treating disease processes.
The symptoms of cancer vary, and generally include:
- An unexplained significant weight loss;
- Extreme tiredness or fatigue that is not due to a lack of rest;
- Pain, such as back pain, or a persistent headache;
- Changes in skin color, itching, or excessive hair growth;
- Unusual bleeding, such as in mucous, urine, or stool; and
- Difficulty swallowing, persistent cough, or hoarseness of the voice.
Proving a Medical Malpractice Case for Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis
A delay in the diagnosis of cancer can have an irreversible effect on the patient by impacting the course of treatment and the patient’s chances of surviving cancer. Pennsylvania medical malpractice law requires that a physician exercise reasonable and ordinary care when providing medical treatment to a patient. If a physician fails to follow the accepted standards of medical care, a patient may have a valid medical malpractice claim against the physician.
When diagnosing or treating cancer, accepted standards of medical practice may require physicians to:
- Refer the patient to an appropriate specialist or facility for examination or testing;
- Perform a thorough and complete physical examination given the patient’s symptoms;
- Implement an appropriate treatment plan; and
- Timely order, and/or properly interpret, laboratory tests or imaging studies.
Medical malpractice lawyers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania can initiate a lawsuit for delayed diagnosis, or misdiagnosis, of cancer, when the attorney has enough information to show:
- A delay in diagnosis or a misdiagnosis;
- Resulting from the physician’s conduct or inaction;
- Increasing the risk of recurrence, or spread, of the plaintiff’s cancer; and
- The patient sustained injuries/damages.
Statute of Limitations for Missed Cancer Diagnosis Cases
Pennsylvania and New Jersey have 2 year Statutes of Limitations for medical malpractice cases, including those that involve delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis of cancer. After two years have passed from the date that the patient knew, or should have known, of their cancer diagnosis, the patient can no longer pursue a malpractice claim for the missed, or delayed, diagnosis. In cases involving a minor, the Statute of Limitations does not begin to run until the child reaches adulthood. That means that a minor has until age 20 to bring a claim.
If you, or a loved one, were recently diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer due to a physician’s delayed diagnosis, or misdiagnosis, of cancer, a medical malpractice lawyer can investigate whether you have been the victim of a preventable medical error. Slade McLaughlin, Paul Lauricella and the attorneys of the Philadelphia law firm of McLaughlin & Lauricella have decades of experience handling delayed diagnosis, and misdiagnosis, cancer malpractice cases in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They have consistently secured large jury verdicts and settlements for their clients.