There are more than one million new cases of cancer every year in the United States. Each year, more than 600,000 people will die from cancer. Unfortunately, many of those cancer cases could have resulted in better outcomes or improved quality of life for patients if the cancer had been detected earlier or more accurately diagnosed. Cancer misdiagnosis is responsible for causing unnecessary pain, suffering, and death.
A cancer misdiagnosis is not just a mistake but is often caused by medical malpractice. When an oncologist or doctor makes a negligent finding that causes the patient to suffer injury, the doctor may be liable for damages. Damages in a cancer misdiagnosis malpractice lawsuit can include loss of income, medical bills, and pain and suffering. If you have questions about a medical malpractice claim, talk to an experienced medical malpractice law firm about your options.
Cancer presents in a number of different ways. Cancer can appear differently based on the type of cancer, area of the body, and the individual patient. This is why doctors, pathologists, and oncologists are trained in recognizing the signs and symptoms of cancer, ordering the proper diagnostic tests and biopsies, and reviewing test results to confirm or deny a finding of cancer. If doctors do not have enough information to make an accurate diagnosis, they are also trained to seek a consultation with another medical professional.
Cancer is a specialized area of medicine. Cancer is generally diagnosed by a medical expert by looking at diagnostic tests, tissue samples, or cells under microscopic or chemical analysis. Other tests can analyze tissue cell proteins, DNA, and RNA to detect cancer. This is important not only to identify cancer but also to determine how best to treat the cancer.
Many people are advised to be aware of possible areas of concern in their own bodies, such as women doing manual self-examinations of the breast area to check for lumps, dimpling of the skin, swelling, or a change in nipple position. Men are also advised to check for testicular cancer by trying to check for any new or irregular lumps in the testicles. However, even if you find a lump it does not necessarily mean it is cancer or even anything very serious. Most tumors are actually not cancerous. However, anything unusual should be reported to your doctor for a medical evaluation.
Biopsy and Cytology
One of the most common ways to diagnose cancer is through a “biopsy,” or tissue sample. A biopsy generally involves taking a section of tissue and pathology testing. Looking at cells or clusters of cells to diagnose a disease is known as cytology. Cytology or cytopathology can be used to diagnose cancer but can be simpler and less painful than a biopsy. This may be the first step as a screening test or diagnostic test. Tissues sampling can include:
- Fine needle aspiration
- Core needle biopsy
- Excisional biopsy
- Incisional biopsy
- Endoscopic biopsy
- Laparoscopic biopsy
- Thoracoscopy biopsy
- Mediastinoscopy biopsy
- Skin biopsy
- Lymph node mapping
The first step in evaluating the sample is generally a “gross examination,” done without a microscope. This will evaluate the tissue samples, size, color, and other properties. This may also include a photograph of the sample for the medical record. Next, the sample or portion of the biopsy may be placed under microscopic slides after a thin tissue slice is cut. The tissue may also be dyed to change the color of different substances or parts of the cell structure.
Under a microscope, the doctor will look at the tissues and organ cells. Pathologists or specialists will look at the cells, including the overall size and shape, size and shape of the nucleus, and arrangement of the cells. Abnormal cells may indicate cancer. The doctor can also further classify the type of cancer, and the grade of cancer. High-grade cancers are generally more likely to grow and spread and can be associated with a poor outcome.
Errors in Biopsy Misdiagnosis
Some cancer misdiagnosis cases involve biopsy or cytology errors. This can occur when biopsies are improperly processed or mislabeled, or improperly handled by the doctor, pathologist, or lab. In a routine biopsy, the specimen is put in a preservative fluid in a container and labeled with important identifying information, including:
- Patients name
- Hospital number
- Site of biopsy
If there is any problem with the sampling, recording, tracking, or labeling of the sample, it can cause problems in diagnosis. A patient could be diagnosed because of another patient’s sample, or vice versa. The lab could lose the sample, causing further delays in diagnosis. If the sample is not properly stored, it could also cause problems with the biopsy pathological evaluation.
Most Commonly Misdiagnosed Cancers
Any type of cancer can be misdiagnosed, leading to delayed treatment, unnecessary physical injury, or death. However, some of the more common types of cancer may be more likely to be misdiagnosed. Commonly misdiagnosed cancers include:
Lymphoma is a type of cancer that involves abnormalities in the lymphocytes causing improper multiplication of white blood cells. Also known as Hodgkin disease or Hodgkin lymphoma, it often starts in the lymph nodes of the chest, neck, and underarms, causing swelling. Lymphoma can travel around to different types of the body, with a rapid spread to other organs or body parts.
Hodgkin lymphoma is a treatable cancer but can be misdiagnosed because the symptoms and signs appear similar to other common diseases and conditions. When the cancer is not properly diagnosed, misdiagnosed, or not properly tested, it can spread to other parts of the body, making treatment more difficult with a decreased rate of recovery. Over 1,000 people in the U.S. die from Hodgkin lymphoma.
Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancer risks for women. There are more than 281,000 estimated new cases of breast cancer in 2021, with an estimated 43,600 deaths for the same year. Breast cancer often involves ductal carcinoma, or cancerous cells in the milk duct linings of the breasts. Another type of breast cancer is known as lobular carcinoma.
Breast cancer can be a slow growing cancer but delayed diagnosis can leave the cancer to grow untreated, increasing the grade and danger to the patient. Early symptoms include a lump in the breasts, swelling, irritation, or irregular discharge. One of the common causes of breast cancer misdiagnosis occurs when a doctor improperly categorizes a lump as benign when the mass is cancerous. Misreading mammograms is another cause of misdiagnosis.
Lung Cancer Misdiagnosis
More than 235,000 will be diagnosed with lung cancer and bronchus cancer in 2021. Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in both men and women, killing over 131,000 people in the U.S. in 2021. Lung cancer is not always associated with a history of smoking. There are other risk factors for lung cancer, including air pollution, family medical history, workplace exposure to asbestos or other carcinogens. Diagnosis for lung cancer often begins after a patient reports signs and symptoms of possible lung conditions, with a CT scan to get an image of the lungs. A bronchoscopy can be used to obtain a biopsy of lung tissue, to diagnose cancer and categorize the type and grade of cancer. If a doctor makes an improper diagnosis that fails to detect lung cancer or the cancer is not properly detected, the doctor may have committed cancer malpractice.
Colon Cancer Misdiagnosis
Colorectal cancer occurs in the inner linings of the lower intestines. This is a slow-growing cancer that often develops first as polyps or cell clusters. Polyps may not cause any serious symptoms until they become cancerous. If they continue to grow, they can cause further damage and metastasis to spread to other parts of the intestines or other areas of the body.
When a patient reports possible signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer, the doctor should conduct a thorough screening and diagnosis, including a possible colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, biopsy, or digital exam. If the doctor fails to diagnose cancer where there are indications of the deadly disease, it can lead to increased harm and increase the risk of death.
Skin Cancer Misdiagnosis
Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the U.S. It is often associated with too much sun exposure but can occur anywhere on the body. About one in five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of their lifetime. Skin cancer types include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Doctors may begin a skin cancer diagnosis with a physical exam, looking for irregular signs of suspicion, including abnormal growths, asymmetric marks, irregular bordered moles, and irregular colors. A diagnosis generally involves a biopsy of the skin sample, to identify the type of cancer and grade of cancer. Failing to properly order screening exams, diagnostic tests, biopsy errors, and failure to communicate biopsy findings can be a form of skin cancer medical malpractice.
Other Types of Misdiagnosed Cancer
Other common cancers that can be misdiagnosed include prostate cancer, colon cancer, rectum cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, endometrial cancer, leukemia, pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer, and liver cancer. In men, the most common cancers are prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer. In women, the most common cancers include breast, lung, and colorectal.
Cancer Misdiagnosis and Racial Disparities
Cancer disparities occur when different communities are disproportionately impacted by cancer diagnosis, cancer treatment, and cancer misdiagnosis. The American Cancer Society recognizes disparities in the U.S., often linked to socioeconomic status and historical racism. Everyone should have equal access to quality medical care but it is not always the case. Social inequalities can influence access to healthy lifestyles, healthcare, transportation, and the financial ability to seek out cancer treatment.
According to the National Cancer Institute, African-American women are roughly two times as likely to die of breast cancer compared to white women. Other cancer disparities have been linked to melanoma, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, cervical cancer, and prostate cancer. These disproportionate cases of serious cancer injury and fatal cancer can involve delayed diagnosis, cancer misdiagnosis, or limited access to cancer specialists.
Delayed Diagnosis and Deadly Consequences
Diagnostic errors in cancer can involve misdiagnosing the cancer as another medical condition, treatment for a harmless condition identified as cancer, or delayed diagnosis that allows the cancer to spread. Misdiagnosis can be as dangerous as delayed diagnosis, leading to:
- Limited treatment options
- Cancer spread or metastasize
- Other health complications
Cancer Metastasizes and Spreads to Other Sites in the Body
When cancer is localized, identified, and diagnosed, there may be more treatment options available. When the cancer has not yet spread, it can be treated with chemotherapy, radiation treatment, or surgery to cut out the tumor or cancerous cells. However, when the cancer metastasizes, and spreads to other tissue and other organs, it can be more difficult to treat.
When the cancer stage is higher, the patient may have fewer treatment options and a decreased chance for recovery. Often, a patient does not know their advanced cancer was caused by a misdiagnosis. However, earlier screening questions, physical exams, blood tests, and diagnostic tests may have provided the information necessary for your doctor to look further. If your doctor ignored the suspicious signs or red flags, they may have allowed the cancer to grow from a treatable and localized cancer to an untreatable and fatal disease.
Can You Rely on Your Doctor’s Word About Cancer Findings?
Many patients rely on their doctors’ findings without getting a second opinion. Some patients do not feel comfortable asking their doctors follow-up questions or challenging the doctor’s findings because the doctors are dismissive or simply refuse to listen. As a result, patients blame themselves when the doctor failed to see the obvious signs that something was wrong. However, the doctor has a professional responsibility to provide a standard of care. When the doctor breaches their duty to the patient and it causes harm, the doctor may be liable for damages.
Importance of Filing a Cancer Misdiagnosis Malpractice Lawsuit
Even after a cancer misdiagnosis, many victims and their families try to ignore what happened to them. The victims may not want to go through the painful process of confronting the doctor, hospital, and other healthcare workers. Family members of a cancer victim may simply try and put the past behind them. However, there are important reasons for victims to come forward and tell their stories.
Provide Care for Injury Victim
If a breast cancer patient in Chicago was the victim of a misdiagnosis that led to a mastectomy, painful chemo treatment, and permanent disfigurement, the victim deserves compensation. A Chicago medical malpractice lawsuit can help the injury victim recover money for their medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and an award for their physical injuries.
Provide for Family Members
The family can also suffer when a loved one dies because of a cancer misdiagnosis. In a fatal cancer case, the family members can recover damages to pay for the costs of the funeral services, burial expenses, medical bills, and help provide for the lost income of the mother or father of the children left without a parent.
Hold the Medical Industry Accountable
The medical industry often responds better to the financial bottom line. Without a lawsuit to hold the negligent doctor and hospital accountable, the medical industry may have little incentive to make changes in the way they diagnose and treat patients. Holding the medical officials accountable for their actions and inactions may also help other families avoid a similar accident and unnecessary loss.
Where to Turn After a Misdiagnosis Injury
An experienced law firm can help guide you through the complex medical malpractice process after a cancer misdiagnosis. Talk to experienced trial attorneys who can review your case, get expert medical reviews, and help you understand your legal options to file a claim against the surgeons, doctors, and hospitals responsible. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.