A jury in Westmoreland County returned a verdict for the plaintiffs in LaRosa v Banks, a medical malpractice case involving the death of Paul LaRosa with a $300,000 award. LaRosa visited the emergency department at Frick Hospital in Mount Pleasant complaining of severe back pain. Defendant Matthew Banks, a staff Radiologist, reviewed a CT scan and assessed the problem as simply a back strain. LaRosa was discharged and told to have a follow-up visit with his primary physician. Over one year later, it was determined that LaRosa had pancreatic cancer that had now spread to his liver.
During the period between his initial hospital visit and his cancer diagnosis, LaRosa had returned to the emergency department three more times with related symptoms. Each time, the staff cited the prior CT as being negative and prescribed pain medications. In a subsequent visit, LaRosa complained of pain in his abdominal region, which prompted another scan that led to the detection of the cancer and a tumor on the pancreas.
Following the cancer diagnosis, LaRosa began undergoing chemotherapy to reduce the size of the tumor in order to allow for surgical removal. In the meanwhile, he pursued a claim of medical malpractice but died during the early part of the proceedings. A plaintiff expert alleged that Dr. Banks has failed to detect the pancreatic tumor which would have indicated the potential for cancer.
Likelihood of Survival
The plaintiff expert further suggested that LaRosa's symptoms should have prompted a closer examination of the pancreas. This would have led to identifying the existence of a cyst and further testing for malignancy. Experts emphasized the importance of early detection of pancreatic cancer, as often it can be fatal.
If such earlier detection had occurred the chances of survival would have been much greater, as he would have undergone a pancreaticoduodenectomy, which removes a portion of the pancreas, small intestine, gallbladder and bile duct. A pancreaticoduodenectomy is commonly referred to as the Whipple procedure.
The defense presented some several key considerations:
- That Dr. Banks had correctly interpreted the original CT scan and that at the time the cyst would have been too small to recognize
- Earlier detection of the cancer would not have saved LaRosa's life based on his having “underlying metastatic disease”
- LaRosa would not have been considered appropriate for the complex pancreaticoduodenectomy procedure due to his health problems (comorbidities)
- LaRosa's medical history included seven cardiac stents, two heart attacks, lung disease, and obesity
The pancreas aids in the digestion of food and assists in regulating blood sugar. A pancreatic cyst is a pouch of fluid on the pancreas consisting of inflamed tissue. These cysts are generally not cancerous and are typically identified while testing for other conditions. Upon detection, a sample of the fluid is tested for the presence of cancer cells.
The exocrine cells within the pancreas may form cancerous tumors that tend to spread rapidly. In many cases pancreatic cancer that is detected has already spread; a reason why it is ranked as the fourth deadliest form of cancer. Very low five-year survival rates reinforce the importance of early detection.