Posted On April 15, 2015 Personal Injury
You hear a lot about cancer awareness. There’s a practical reason for this focus: making people aware of the symptoms to watch for and the screenings that could lead to early detection. Survival rates are far higher when cancers are diagnosed early on, rather than after they have progressed to more serious stages.
Recently, I have seen a disturbing rise in medical malpractice cases in which doctors failed to diagnose two specific kinds of cancer: breast and colon cancer. Regular screening can detect both types of cancer, yet somehow doctors still fail to diagnose the conditions promptly – leaving patients with poor prognoses and slim chances of surviving.
Doctors use a wide range of methods to diagnose breast cancer, from physical exams to imaging tests like ultrasounds and mammograms. High-risk patients might undergo MRIs, and patients who display symptoms like breast lumps might need a biopsy.
Screenings like mammograms clinical breast exams are intended to detect cancer even before the condition has begun causing noticeable symptoms. That’s why the American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms for all women age 40 and older – even if they don’t have breast cancer symptoms – and regular clinical breast exams even for women as young as 20.
When diagnosed at stage 0 and stage I, breast cancer patients have a relative 100% five-year survival rate, the American Cancer Society reported. At stage II, that rate still remains high at 93%. Even at stage III, 72% of breast cancer patients survive for at least five years.
When cancer progresses to stage IV, though, the survival rate plummets to just 22%.
Probably the most well-known screening for colon cancer is the colonoscopy, a test conducted in a clinic, physician’s office or hospital outpatient department in which a patient is sedated and medical providers use tubes, cameras, and other equipment to view the inside of the colon. In addition to detecting cancer, colonoscopies can also find and biopsy or remove polyps, noncancerous tumors that could later turn cancerous – in other words, the procedure can actually prevent colon cancer.
Physicians sometimes perform a sigmoidoscopy, a test similar to a colonoscopy. Doctors can also use X-ray tests and CT scans as well as various, noninvasive tests of stool sample specimens to diagnose colorectal cancer.
Though colon cancer could in theory affect patients of any age, the American Cancer Society generally doesn’t recommend regular colonoscopy or other screenings until patients turn 50. Patients with an increased risk due to family history, certain medical conditions, or other factors may need to undergo screening earlier.
If a patient goes for a regular colonoscopy or other test and gets a clean bill of health, he or she shouldn’t later be diagnosed with late-stage colorectal cancer. The screening should detect cancer in its early stages. A late-stage diagnosis could indicate that doctors neglected to perform procedures thoroughly or misinterpreted results of the test.
As with breast cancer, colon cancer is a condition in which early detection makes a world of difference. At stage I, 92% of patients survive for at least five years, according to the American Cancer Society. For patients with stage IIIA colon cancer, the survival rate is 89%, while patients with stage IIA cancer have an 87% survival rate. Stage IIIB translates to a 69% survival rate, while stage IIB is similar at 63%.
When colon cancer reaches stage IIIC, patients have a 53% chance of living for at least five more years.
At stage IV, the survival rate drops sharply – to a dismal 11%.
Knowing that there are clear guidelines and effective screening methods that allow doctors to detect breast and colon cancer early on, you might wonder how a doctor could possibly fail to diagnose cancer.
In some cases, the physician isn’t thorough enough in examining the patient. Other times, he or she neglects to order or perform a test that others in the medical community would find reasonable. For example, a patient might present with symptoms that could indicate breast cancer, but the doctor could dismiss the patient’s worrying signs instead of ordering a test to investigate the cause.
Perhaps the doctor orders the right test, but he or she never actually interprets the data, or makes a serious mistake in interpreting it. It’s even possible that the doctor will see that a test indicates that a patient has cancer, but won’t actually tell the patient of the finding, recommend a follow-up appointment, or refer the patient to a specialist. These patients go on with their lives, having no idea that they’re suffering from a serious condition until it’s too late.
No matter how a doctor failed to diagnose cancer – whether because he or she was busy, or distracted, or dismissive – this is negligence, and the consequences are severe.
The rise in failure to diagnose cases of breast and colon cancer is an alarming trend. However, misdiagnosis isn’t limited to one or two kinds of cancer.
If you were diagnosed with late-stage cancer of any kind even after you had undergone preventive screenings or seen your doctor for symptoms, you deserve to know whether or not a medical provider’s negligence is what put you in this situation. You and your family deserve compensation for all of the damages you suffered as a result. Give Console & Associates P.C. medical malpractice attorneys a call – the consultation is free and private, and we’ll help you understand your rights and options.