A federal judge awarded $3.75 million to a veteran who was forced to undergo a preventable penectomy after doctors failed to diagnose penile cancer.
Lawrence Cherry first visited VA doctors in 2009, presenting with white lesions on his legs, feet and on the tip of his penis. These were diagnosed as warts and doctors used liquid nitrogen to remove them. A year later, the lesions reappeared. This time, Mr. Cherry was diagnosed with skin cancer. Doctors prescribed a topical chemotherapy cream. At this time, he was not informed of any other treatment options (including surgery). His condition worsened.
According to the American Cancer Society, the first sign of penile cancer is most often a change in the skin of the penis.
He was finally referred to a specialist – a VA urologist. This urologist never conducted a physical examination, nor did he order a cystoscopy — a procedure during which a scope is passed through the urethra for inspection. The urologist stated that nothing unusual was wrong, and advised Mr. Cherry to continue treatment as prescribed.
Finally in 2013, after his condition continued to deteriorate, he saw another VA urologist. This time, a cystoscopy was performed. Doctors discovered a malignant tumor and referred Mr. Cherry to the Mayo Clinic. At this point, doctors were forced to immediately perform surgery in order to remove the tumor and stop the cancer from spreading. Mr. Cherry underwent a penectomy, which removed the glans penis in its entirety.
In his decision, a federal judge wrote that this surgery had a grievous physical and emotional impact on both the life of Mr. Cherry and of his wife. He ruled that a routine cystoscopy performed when Mr. Cherry first presented his symptoms would have likely prevented the surgery that resulted in the removal of most of his penis and the associated negative consequences. He awarded Mr. Cherry $3.75 million in damages.
Diagnostic errors are all too common in medical practice. These can include misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, and the failure to diagnose. A delayed diagnosis can have devastating outcomes. As seen in this case, missing an opportunity to make the correct diagnosis, especially when a disease or medical condition is in an earlier stage, can have a significant impact on the patient’s prognosis. Even if the patient is able to eventually overcome a particular medical condition, treatment methods often become more severe with disease progression. Therefore, early detection is not only the key to having the best possible prognosis, but also avoiding more radical forms of treatment.
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