A breast cancer diagnosis can be life-changing. Many patients who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not know what to do or how they will be able to cope. Cancer treatment has come a long way over the past decades. There are improved detection methods and treatment options. Make sure you talk to your doctor to answer any questions about your health after a breast cancer diagnosis.
In some cases, breast cancer may have been diagnosed later than it should. A doctor could have failed to address a patient’s serious concerns or possible symptoms. Doctors could also misinterpret imaging studies or mammograms, failing to catch suspicious signs that should have alerted the doctors to cancer much earlier.
If you have cancer and suspect there was a delayed diagnosis or some other mistreatment during your medical care, you may want to talk to a medical malpractice attorney about your legal rights. A malpractice claim could help you recover money damages and hold the negligent doctor responsible for their dangerous errors. Contact an experienced medical malpractice law firm about your case.
What Can You Expect After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis?
Breast cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the tissue in and around the breasts. Cancer causes cells to grow out of control. Cancer can develop in several areas of the breasts, including the lobules, ducts, and connective tissue. Cancer that develops in the breasts can spread to other parts of the body through the blood or lymph vessels, known as metastasizing.
Doctors are trained in areas of recognizing possible signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Some doctors have additional breast cancer training, including medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and OB/GYNs. Women can be taught to look for possible signs of cancer by doing a self-examination. Women may also undergo screening for cancer, including a regular mammogram.
When cancer is diagnosed, the doctor can advise the patient on treatment plans and treatment options. Treatment may involve trying multiple and complementary treatments. The side effects of some treatments can be difficult. During treatment, the cancer is monitored with blood tests and imaging tests. If the treatment isn’t working, the patient and doctor may try other therapies. If cancer tumors do not come back or stay the same size after finishing treatment, cancer may be considered to be “in remission.”
Types of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2022, the U.S. expects 290,560 new cases of breast cancer. There are also an estimated 43,250 deaths involving breast cancer. Lung cancer and prostate cancer are the next most common types of cancer, with lung cancer having the highest estimated death rates.
There are several types of breast cancer, depending on the types of cells involved and where the cancer develops. In situ cancer is a pre-cancer that develops in an area of the breast but has not grown into other parts of the breast tissue. Invasive breast cancer has spread to other areas of the breast tissue. The most common types of breast cancer include:
- Invasive ductal carcinoma: develops in the ducts and then spreads to other parts of the breast tissue.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma: develops in the lobules (the glands that produce milk) and spread to other parts of the breast tissue.
There are other, less common, types of breast cancer, including medullary breast cancer, mucinous breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer, triple-negative cancer, phyllodes cancer, angiosarcoma, and Paget’s disease.
What Are the Stages of Cancer?
Cancer can be categorized by “stage,” ranging from Stage 0 to Stage IV. Stage of cancer refers to if it is in one area of the breast, has spread to other areas of the breast, or has spread to other parts of the body. Some of the clinical characteristics of stages of cancer are based on T (size of the primary tumor), N (lymph node assessment), and M (metastasis or spreading to the other parts of the body).
Updated guidelines include other factors to assess the stage of the cancer, including tumor grade, hormone-receptor status, HER2 protein status, and Oncotype DX score. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about the stage of cancer and what the score means.
Breast Cancer Symptoms and Risk Factors
There are different signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Some patients may develop symptoms and others may have no symptoms at all. Some common signs or symptoms of breast cancer include:
- Lump in the breast or armpit
- Swelling in the breast
- Changes in the skin on the breast
- Redness of flaky skin on the breast
- Pain in the breast or nipple
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
If you feel a new lump in your breast or underarm, contact your doctor. However, not all lumps in the breast tissue are cancers. Other causes of lumps in the breast are cysts or fibrocystic breast conditions.
It is difficult to know who will develop breast cancer and who will not. However, there are certain risk factors that can increase the chance of breast cancer. It is important to be aware of the risk factors so you might be able to take steps to decrease the risks of cancer or be more aware of symptoms and seek out screening. Some possible risk factors for breast cancer include:
- Family history of breast cancer
- Older age
- Dense breasts
- Genetic mutations
- Reproductive history
- Low physical activity
- Drinking alcohol
How is Breast Cancer Treated?
There are several cancer treatment options available. The type of treatment you and your doctor decide may depend on several factors, including the spread of cancer, type of cancer, and individual medical conditions. The following are some of the types of breast cancer treatment:
Surgical Cancer Treatment
Surgical treatment cuts out the cancerous tissue from the body. The extent of surgery may depend on the size of the tumor and metastasis. A lumpectomy is the removal of a limited portion of the breast tissue, usually the tumor or “lump.” A mastectomy is the surgical removal of one breast, partially or completely.
Some patients opt for a full, double mastectomy, even if cancer is only present in one breast, as a preventative measure. Women who have a higher risk for developing breast cancer may decide to get a double mastectomy to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer in the healthy breast tissue later on.
Chemotherapy involves taking medication that targets the tumor or cancer cells, to kill the cancer or reduce the size of a tumor. Chemotherapy can include a combination of specialized medications taken orally or intravenously. Some of these chemotherapy drugs can have serious side effects.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams directed at cancer cells to destroy the cancer cells or shrink tumors. Radiation can use external beam or internal beam therapy. The radiation itself can be harmful to the body and patients are generally limited to a lifetime dose in the area.
Hormonal therapy limits the cancer’s access to certain hormones cancer uses to grow and spread. Some types of breast cancer attach to hormones like estrogen and progesterone to grow. Hormone or endocrine therapy stops the hormones from attaching to cancer cells.
Immunotherapy uses medication to boost a patient’s own immune system. A stronger immune system may be better able to recognize and kill cancer cells.
Targeted drug therapy uses medication that targets specific proteins in breast cancer cells. The drugs can help kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. Targeted drug therapy can help destroy cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.
Are There Alternative Cancer Treatments?
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can help some patients while they are undergoing cancer treatment. Some of these complementary treatments can ease the side effects of cancer or help the patient emotionally and mentally. However, make sure you talk to your doctor first before you try any additional supplements, medicines, or treatments.
Should I Get a Second Opinion After Breast Cancer?
If you got a cancer diagnosis from your doctor, you may be able to get a second opinion from another doctor. Getting a second opinion when breast cancer is involved is not uncommon. In some cases, it may be more reassuring to get a second opinion from another doctor who comes to the same diagnosis and treatment plan.
Some patients do not want to get a second opinion because they are worried about what their doctor will think. Medical professionals understand that it can be a good thing for a patient to get a second opinion. Getting the experience and advice of multiple medical professionals can be beneficial and provide the patient and the doctors with more information.
What Happens With Breast Cancer in Men?
Men can develop breast cancer although it is less often than in women. Cancer can develop in the breast tissue of a man and grow or spread to other parts of the body. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2022, about 2,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer in men will be diagnosed and about 530 men will die from breast cancer.
Was Breast Cancer Caused by Breast Implants?
There may be risks of breast cancer with certain materials, including certain types of breast implants. Some breast implants have been recalled by the FDA because there were disproportionate numbers of lymphoma cases for patients with the breast implants. The FDA has issued guidance for breast implants filled with saline, silicone gel, or alternative filler intended for breast augmentation and breast reconstruction.
Delayed Diagnosis for Breast Cancer and Medical Malpractice
Diagnosing cancer as early as possible can give the patient the best outcome. Cancer may be more treatable when it is localized or in situ. When cancer spreads to other tissue or other parts of the body, it can be more difficult to treat. Advanced-stage cancer has a higher risk of serious harm and may not be treatable or treatment options may be more limited.
When a doctor fails to make a diagnosis or misdiagnoses cancer, it can cause serious harm to the patient. A misdiagnosis can involve a doctor misinterpreting the signs and symptoms of cancer or failing to order appropriate tests to rule out cancer or other differential diagnosis.
How do you know if a misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose is medical malpractice and not just a risk of healthcare? Doctors are trained for years in medicine. Their training includes practical experience, classroom education, examinations, and board qualification. Doctors may also get a consultation or make a referral when another doctor could provide additional information.
Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor breaches their duty of care to a patient and the patient suffers an injury and harm as a result. A breach of care may occur when the doctor deviates from the standards of medical care. Deviating from medical care involves the doctor doing something that a reasonable doctor would not have done under similar circumstances.
For example, a doctor is doing a breast examination and feels a lump. The patient says the lump is new. The doctor says not to worry about it and they will follow up next year. A year later, the doctor notices the lump is bigger and after tests, the patient is diagnosed with cancer.
If a reasonable doctor would not have waited a year to evaluate the suspicious lump, the first doctor may have been negligent in delaying the diagnosis for cancer. This delay could cause additional injury and harm to the patient that could have (and should have) been avoided.
Talk to a Medical Malpractice Lawyer About a Delayed Breast Cancer Diagnosis
A delayed diagnosis or failure to diagnose cancer is a serious cause of injury and harm to breast cancer patients. A common cause of cancer misdiagnosis occurs when a doctor improperly categorizes a limp as benign when the mass is actually cancerous. Misinterpreting imaging studies or mammograms is another cause of breast cancer diagnosis.
If you suspect you were the victim of a cancer misdiagnosis and have now developed metastatic or advanced-stage cancer, you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries and be able to hold the negligent doctor liable for their mistakes. Call experienced cancer medical malpractice attorneys who can look at your case, answer your questions, and help you understand your legal options to file a claim against a negligent doctor. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.