In the battle against cancer, an early diagnosis often makes the difference between life and death. Even more important is receiving a correct diagnosis the first time.
Millions of Americans put their trust in medical professionals every day. We assume that our doctors will do everything in their power to keep us healthy. Most of us don’t even question whether that trust has actually been earned.
Cancer Misdiagnosis: Can I File A Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
But every year, tens of thousands of Americans receive a cancer misdiagnosis. Many are inaccurately told that benign tumors are malignant, or their vague symptoms are being caused by a cancer. Some are put on a course of antibiotics that have no hope of treating the real malignancy quickly spreading inside their bodies. All the while, family members watch helplessly as exorbitant medical bills pile up.
The experienced personal injury lawyers at Banville Law offer a solution.
Filing a cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit may be the only way to recover what you’ve lost. Pursuing justice won’t bring back the days, months or years that were stolen from you or a loved one, but it can be a path to recovery.
When Is There Medical Negligence?
While an estimated 12 million Americans are given a cancer misdiagnosis every year, not all of these patients are the victims of medical malpractice.
An estimated 464,000 Americans are misdiagnosed with cancer annually.
The foundation of every medical negligence lawsuit is the claim that a doctor violated the “standard of care.” When physicians fail to uphold the fundamental standards of their profession, and patients are harmed, they can be held accountable.
Many misdiagnoses occur because physicians fail to approach their patients from a holistic viewpoint. Noting only isolated symptoms, they dismiss the rest. Rather than ordering additional tests, they rely on individual results that only tell a portion of the whole story.
Defining A “Standard Of Care”
Diagnosing cancer is difficult, and our knowledge of the disease is far from complete. So the specific standard of care in your case will vary depending on the type of cancer involved, the symptoms you experienced and other risk factors.
As a benchmark, we’ll ask:
“What would a reasonable, competent doctor with similar experience and education have done in the same situation?”
In an actual lawsuit, our attorneys will rely on the opinions of medical experts. With their guidance, we’ll define the standard of care that should have been followed, and then analyze a doctor’s actions or inactions to determine whether they violated that standard.
Diagnostic errors are the leading cause of medical malpractice claims in the country.
Defending Patient Rights: A Doctor’s Basic Duties
Other elements of a doctor’s standard of care are intuitive and universal. While we can’t tell you whether or not your own physician was negligent before a thorough investigation, consider the following questions:
- Did your doctor fail to refer you to a specialist after you voiced concerns over troubling symptoms?
- Did your physician ever dismiss your symptoms, and opt for the “easier” diagnosis of a benign condition?
- Did your doctor diagnose you based on the results of one test?
It doesn’t take a medical professional to recognize that these guidelines are just common sense. At bottom, a doctor’s duty is to treat every patient as an individual, a unique, valuable person who deserves responsible, attentive care.
What Is Differential Diagnosis?
Most misdiagnosis claims come down to the mechanics of diagnosis: how doctors investigate symptoms and use tests to determine a patient’s underlying condition.
Separating The Possible From The Actual
According to the US Centers for Disease Control, the insurance industry currently recognizes almost 70,000 different potential diagnoses. Is that all the diseases that exist? Probably not, but there are obviously numerous possible pathologies for a doctor to consider. The body, however, only reacts to these conditions in a limited number of ways.
In other words, combinations of symptoms often look indistinguishable, even though their underlying causes may be radically different.
How Diagnosis Should Work
Differential diagnosis is a way of eliminating all the possible conditions to arrive at the actual one.
First, a doctor creates a list of the patient’s symptoms, and then creates a list of all the conditions that could cause those symptoms. Then, they’ll work through the conditions, ordering additional tests and reconsidering symptoms, eliminating the conditions that don’t align with the patient’s actual physical state. Ideally, they’ll be left with only one condition at the end of this process: the right one.
Mistakes In Differential Diagnosis
In investigating your own physician’s diagnostic process, our attorneys will look for one of two things:
- Your doctor skipped the correct diagnosis in making up their list of possible conditions, but a similarly-educated, reasonable doctor would have included it.
- Your doctor included the correct diagnosis in their list, but failed to pursue it appropriately. They didn’t order the right tests or consult specialists to check whether or not it was likely you had the condition.
Our research may even turn up evidence that the tests on which your doctor relied were marred by errors. Technicians and pathologists make mistakes, too, and some of those mistakes are examples of negligence. In that case, your physician might not be to blame. But “behind the scenes” doesn’t mean free from liability; any healthcare professional can be held accountable for medical malpractice.
Top 5 Misdiagnosed Cancers
Many cancers are expert “mimics,” presenting “nonspecific” symptoms in their early stages. These signs can be confused for benign conditions, delaying an accurate diagnosis for months. But that doesn’t mean every diagnostic error is innocent.
Breast cancer, the most common form of malignancy, is also the most commonly misdiagnosed. Early symptoms, like changes in breast size and even unexplained lumps, can be easily confused for benign growths like fibroadenoma.
According to researchers at Dartmouth Medical School, breast cancer is chronically “over-diagnosed,” and this problem is actually linked to the rise in regular mammograms. Rather than identifying malignant tumors before they spread, routine diagnostics seem to contribute to more “false positives” than not.
To learn more about breast cancer misdiagnoses, click here.
Lung cancer kills more people than colorectal, breast, and ovarian cancers combined, and catching the disease early is absolutely essential.
As with most cancers, the treatments for such an aggressive malignancy can be far more traumatic than the condition itself. Shocking then that an estimated 10% of patients only learn they’ve been misdiagnosed with lung cancer after undergoing invasive procedures.
For many patients, the medical community’s misguided assumptions can prove fatal. This is no truer than in the case of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Often considered a malignancy found only in the young, Hodgkin’s disease is often dismissed out-of-hand as a possible diagnosis in older patients. That’s a clear example of physicians treating their patients as statistics, not people.
Ovarian cancer is particularly susceptible to misdiagnosis, since it causes few early symptoms and even later signs, like bloating and belly pain, can be mistaken for IBS or urinary tract infections.
In fact, the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition found that an overwhelming two-thirds of women currently battling ovarian cancer were misdiagnosed at least once in the beginning.
Even diagnosed early, pancreatic cancer has terrifyingly low survival rates. But that fact doesn’t make a negligent physician’s misdiagnosis any more forgivable.
Pancreatic cancer is frequently mistaken for gallbladder disease. In 2015, an oncologist at the University of Utah found that 40% of patients eventually diagnosed with the disease had their gallbladders removed before receiving a correct diagnosis.
Speak to patients and survivors and you’ll find that almost everyone has a misdiagnosis story. In fact, the National Coalition on Health Care found that more than 1 out of every 5 cancer patients are initially misdiagnosed. That’s a delay in treatment many people can’t afford.
While most misdiagnosis lawsuits are filed against primary care physicians, diagnostic technicians, pathologists, and even nurses can also be held liable for medical negligence.
Choose An Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Over our decades of trial experience, the medical malpractice attorneys at Banville Law have spoken to hundreds of patients who were misdiagnosed with cancer.
Many have endured the trauma and indignity of receiving unnecessary courses of chemo and radiotherapy. Others learned only too late that their symptoms were actually caused by cancer. Some fear bankruptcy, and question the legacy they’ll leave for their loved ones.
Your trust has been betrayed already. We won’t let it happen again. Our cancer misdiagnosis attorneys protect the rights of patients who have been betrayed by their medical professionals. Learn more about your legal options in a free consultation today.