How Can Cancer Be Misdiagnosed?


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There are very few things that instill as much fear as a cancer diagnosis does. It is certainly something that no one wants to hear from their doctor. Yet, cancer is the second most common cause of death in the United States. It is no wonder that a cancer diagnosis is met with so much fear and anxiety. The outlook is often not favorable. Imagine the added stress for cancer patients and their families if they find out that there was some sort of error in their diagnosis.

A misdiagnosis, as it relates to cancer, can come about in different ways. The first is when someone is diagnosed with cancer and then they later find out that they do not, in fact, have it. Generally speaking, this is the most uncommon type of misdiagnosis, and while is it upsetting to the patient and may cause emotional stress, it doesn’t typically cause any kind of long-term physical issues.

The most common type of misdiagnosis happens when there is a delay in diagnosing cancer. This happens when someone who is diagnosed with cancer has reason to ask if it should have been diagnosed earlier. As it is a progressive disease, the patient will likely have a better prognosis if it is diagnosed and treated earlier rather than later. So a delay in diagnosis can result in an outcome that is significantly different than it could have been. This delay could be considered malpractice.

Some cancers are detectable via screening tests before a patient exhibits any signs or symptoms. These types include: colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, cervical cancer and breast cancer.

But even if a screening is done when recommended, cancer misdiagnosis still may occur. Often, mistakes in evaluating scans can lead to the incorrect determination that cancer doesn’t exist in a patient.

Left untreated, the cancer will progress and later be diagnosed. Another way that a misdiagnosis can happen is if the screening test itself is not performed correctly. In the case of colorectal cancer, if the bowels are not properly prepared and the test is done anyway, it is likely to be read inaccurately. The test should be redone. If it isn’t, and colorectal cancer is later diagnosed, it could be considered medical malpractice.

For cancers that do not have screening tests, most diagnoses happen when the patient begins to have signs and symptoms. At that point, previous medical history should be looked at by an expert. There may be x-rays, scans, or other tests that were performed earlier that were read incorrectly, or had evidence of cancer that was overlooked. Another thing to look at in determining whether a misdiagnosis has occurred is if the patient had many return trips to the doctor with the same complaint, but no cancer diagnosis, only to find out later that it is indeed cancer. Both of these errors that result in a delay of a diagnosis could be considered medical malpractice.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with advanced stage cancer and previous, regularly scheduled screenings did not detect it, or you repeatedly sought medical help for your symptoms prior to a cancer diagnosis, you may be a victim of medical malpractice. Ross Feller Casey has nationally recognized doctor-lawyers on staff to review your medical records and determine if you have a failure to diagnose cancer lawsuit.

All cases at Ross Feller Casey are handled on a contingency basis, so there will never be a cost to you unless there is a financial recovery. Please contact us for a free consultation and review of your case.

About the Author

With more than 20 years of experience as a physician, Dr. Gerald B. Parker brings a unique perspective as a Philadelphia doctor-lawyer to Ross Feller Casey.

Gerald Parker, III

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