Shouldn’t The Doctor Have Diagnosed Cancer Earlier?


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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were over 1.6 million cancer diagnoses in the United States in 2020, and 602,347 people died from the disease. With numbers like that, it is easy to see why receiving a cancer diagnosis is one of the most devastating things that can happen to someone. The diagnosis is often met with fear and helplessness, and patients and their families instinctively turn to their doctors for answers and expert medical treatment. What happens, though, when those experts do not perform their job properly?

What Part Does Screening Play In Early Cancer Diagnosis?

Some types of cancers have specific screening tests that, when done as recommended, are very useful in detecting cancer in its early stages prior to patients presenting with symptoms. The proper testing and review of results greatly improve the chance of detecting cancer early, with an increased likelihood of effective treatment and improved prognosis. These tests are the single most effective way to detect certain types of cancer early and offer patients the most favorable chance of recovery. Some of those screenings are:

  • Colorectal cancer can be discovered by testing for fecal occult blood, which is the presence of blood in the gastrointestinal tract that is not visible to the eye, and sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy. The USPSTF (United States Preventive Services Task Force) recommends that people ages 45-75 have these types of screenings as often as every year for testing of occult blood and every 5-10 years for sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. 
  • Prostate cancer screening begins with ‘Informed Decision Making.”  For men aged 55 to 69 years with an average risk for prostate cancer, a consideration of the benefits and harms associated with screening is advised. For individuals who prefer to undertake screening, the first test obtained is to measure the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood.
  • Cervical cancer screening is performed by a Pap test, which looks for abnormal cells that can lead to cancer and/or testing for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) that can cause cancer. Screening begins as early as age 21 years and continues with Pap tests being performed every 3 years, HPV testing being performed every 5 years, or combination testing (HPV and Pap) performed every 5 years.
  • Breast cancer is detectable via mammograms. Mammograms are x-rays of the breast. They are the most effective way for doctors to identify breast cancer in its early stages so that treatment can begin as soon as possible. While there are some variations in guidelines endorsed by various professional organizations, in general, for women with average risk for breast cancer, it is recommended that women have mammograms every one to two years beginning at the age of 50 years, unless there are risk factors, in which case annual mammograms should start earlier.
  • Lung cancer screening with a low-dose chest CT scan is recommended for certain individuals.  The USPSTF (United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that individuals ages 50 years to 80 years who have a history of 20 pack-year or more of smoking and who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years undergo annual screening with chest CT scanning.

The key to effective treatment is detecting the cancer as early as possible; regular screenings certainly improve that possibility. Suppose the patient has kept up with regularly scheduled screening tests, but the cancer diagnosis isn't made until the disease is in its later stages. In that case, previous screenings may have been evaluated or performed incorrectly. If that happens, it is essential to have the previous tests reevaluated to see if something was missed or done wrong the first time. For example, performing a colonoscopy even though a patient has not prepared for the test correctly. If a doctor fails to suggest another test and the patient is later diagnosed with colon cancer, the doctor could be found negligent. Mistakes or oversights in preliminary testing can significantly affect the outcome of cancer treatment and endanger the patient's life.

What Do I Do Now That I Have Been Diagnosed With Cancer?

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 negligence and be entitled to compensation.

You must seek both legal and medical advice in these cases. Ross Feller Casey has nationally recognized doctor-lawyers on staff to review your medical records and determine if you have a 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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