My Doctor Failed To Diagnose My Ovarian Cancer. Is It Malpractice?


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The American Cancer Society reports that about 21,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. Tragically, around 14,000 die every year from this disease, making it the most deadly gynecological cancer and the fifth leading cause of all female cancer deaths. While these are sobering statistics, ovarian cancer has a very high survival rate if detected early.

Who Is At Risk for Ovarian Cancer?

While anyone with ovaries can develop ovarian cancer, several factors put a person more at risk, including:

  • more ovulation cycles throughout a woman’s lifetime (older age, never carried a pregnancy to full term, had a first child after the age of 35)
  • being overweight
  • hormone therapy after menopause
  • fertility treatments
  • smoking
  • personal history of breast cancer
  • family history of ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancer

A little more than 1 percent of all women can expect to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer at some point during their lifetime. More than half of these cases occur in women older than 60; almost a quarter of them are attributed to genetics.

What Are The Symptoms?

Ovarian cancer typically has few, if any, noticeable symptoms in its early stages. As it progresses, patients can experience symptoms like:

  • abdominal pain
  • irregular vaginal discharge or spotting
  • bloating
  • loss of appetite or indigestion
  • frequent urination
  • constipation

When diagnosed in its early stages, the survival rate of ovarian cancer is around 92 percent. Unfortunately, the average five-year survival rate of ovarian cancer is closer to 48 percent because these symptoms frequently occur in healthy people as well, so many cases of ovarian cancer go undetected until they’ve progressed to a less treatable stage.

How Is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?

Pap smears screen for cervical cancer, and colonoscopies detect colorectal cancer, but there’s no reliable method for detecting ovarian cancer when it’s in the early stages. Often, when someone seeks medical care for their symptoms, cancer has already spread to other parts of the body.

Once symptoms become noticeable, several tests can be done to confirm or rule out a cancer diagnosis. Pelvic exams, blood tests, ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs, and tissue biopsies are all tools that can determine whether a woman has ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, these same tests are not recommended as screening tools for asymptomatic women. False positives are common, which can lead to unnecessary surgeries.

What Can Delay The Diagnosis Of Ovarian Cancer?

The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be mild initially, and many women simply ignore them or put off seeing their doctor until symptoms begin to interfere with their daily lives. When a doctor is finally consulted, cancer is frequently the last possibility considered.

Because there’s no reliable method to screen for asymptomatic ovarian cancer, it’s vital to inform medical professionals of any personal or family history of cancer. In some cases, a genetic test may be warranted to see if you’re at risk. Some women with genetic predispositions for ovarian cancer opt to have their ovaries removed after a certain age to eliminate the risk. If you have any ovarian cancer symptoms, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to investigate further. Because the symptoms are so nonspecific, many physicians will only check for cancer after all other possibilities have been eliminated, but that process often takes time. When it comes to ovarian cancer, that time could mean the difference between life and death.

Is Misdiagnosis Common?

It’s unknown how many cases of ovarian cancer are initially misdiagnosed. We know that the early stages of ovarian cancer have vague and nonspecific symptoms that can be easily confused with other conditions. It’s not uncommon for a doctor to initially diagnose IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), a urinary tract infection, incontinence, endometriosis, or premenstrual syndrome. Some women go through multiple diagnoses and failed treatments before their doctor thinks to check for ovarian cancer. In situations like these, it’s essential to be your own advocate. Listen to your body, get a second opinion, and don’t wait until your symptoms become unbearable to seek medical treatment. When you get to that point, it’s often too late.

What If It’s Not Caught Early?

After a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, it’s imperative to determine the “stage” of cancer or how far it has progressed. Cancers with a higher stage are much more difficult to treat and tend to have a poor prognosis.

Stage I: Cancer is contained within the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Stage II: Cancer has spread to other areas in the pelvic region.

Stage III: Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.

Stage IV: Cancer has spread to other organs around the body.

When caught early, in stage I or II, treatment usually involves removing the affected organs (ovaries, fallopian tubes, and sometimes the uterus) and may involve chemotherapy or radiation in case any cancer cells were missed. If a surgeon can remove all of the cancerous tissue, then recovery is likely. Stages III and IV are much more difficult to treat. Once the cancer cells have spread throughout the body, it becomes impossible for them to be surgically removed. Chemotherapy and radiation can help but are rarely curative in the later stages.

I Think My Ovarian Cancer Should Have Been Detected Earlier. What Can I Do?

If you believe that you were misdiagnosed, received inadequate medical treatment, or were the victim of medical malpractice, you need a second opinion from a cancer specialist. A doctor’s failure to diagnose ovarian cancer, particularly if it could have been caught in the early stages, can have serious consequences. Medical malpractice may have occurred if:

  • treatment was delayed because your cancer was initially misdiagnosed.
  • your doctor did not perform the tests typically recommended for patients with similar symptoms.
  • a specimen/biopsy collection error resulted in inconclusive results or needed to be repeated, resulting in delayed treatment.
  • your lab work was reported or misinterpreted.
  • you had an abnormal test result, but follow-up care was not given.
  • ovarian cancer was diagnosed correctly, but treatment was not offered, delayed, or inappropriate for your stage or other health conditions.

If a doctor’s negligence resulted in your cancer progressing or in a worsening of your prognosis, then you may be entitled to compensation for your pain, suffering, and medical bills. Find a lawyer who handles medical malpractice cases as soon as you realize or suspect that malpractice has occurred. Make sure they have access to doctors in the oncology field who can provide expert testimony to a judge or jury about what your doctor should have done and where they went wrong. Look for a firm with a successful track record of winning cases involving cancers like yours.

Why Choose Ross Feller Casey?

The legal team at Ross Feller Casey has extensive experience dealing with medical malpractice cases. We have a team of Ivy League-trained doctor-lawyers on staff that provides a unique combination of medical and legal expertise, which is particularly helpful in complex medical cases. If a doctor was negligent in detecting or treating your ovarian cancer, contact us for a free consultation.

Our team of lawyers and doctors has won some of the largest medical malpractice cases in the country, so we know what it takes to get you the justice you deserve. You won’t pay a dime unless we help you win your case, so contact us today.

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