Being diagnosed with cancer is bad news. Discovering your cancer, or your loved one’s cancer, can no longer be treated because the correct diagnosis was delayed, is reprehensible news.
Doctors, or other healthcare professionals, can sometimes misread symptoms, causing a misdiagnosis. By the time a second opinion from another doctor rectifies the error, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or other life-saving treatments may be ineffective.
According to a study reported in the Washington Post, about 20% of Mayo Clinic patients who sought a second opinion had been misdiagnosed by their primary care doctors. The article also quoted the report as saying about 10% of patient deaths were attributed to diagnostic errors.
There Are 12 Million Diagnostic Errors Annually
The US National Academy of Medicine (NAM) defines a diagnostic error as a failure to create a timely and accurate explanation of a patient’s health issue or to relay that explanation to the patient. They say that improving the way healthcare professionals diagnose patients is imperative to public health.
According to a NAM report called Improving Diagnosis In Healthcare, most people will encounter a minimum of one diagnostic error in their lifetime.
The journal BMJ Quality and Safety reports there could be more than 12 million diagnostic errors every year costing the US healthcare system up to $500 billion.
When a diagnostic error happens in cancer treatment it can often be life-threatening. A tumor will continue to grow or spread to other parts of the body, giving your healthcare team fewer options to treat it.
Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are often less successful when aggressive cancer has spread into nearby tissues or is transported through the circulatory or lymphatic systems to distant parts of the body. A delayed diagnosis will decrease the probability that you will be cured of your disease or live five or more years beyond diagnosis.
Immunotherapy, bone marrow transplants, stem cell transplants, and targeted drugs have stringent timeline protocols for their use. Doctors can only perform specific treatments at particular stages of the cancer.
For example, stem cell transplants are most effective on younger patients in the early stages of multiple myeloma. Some doctors won’t perform stem cell transplants on patients in the later stages of the disease and who are older than the age limit cut-off they’ve set for treatment. This could mean fewer treatment options if your multiple myeloma was diagnosed late.
Damage from Untreated Cancer
The longer the cancer is left untreated, the more damage it can do to the affected body structures. For example, many breast cancers can be treated without a complete loss of the breast; however, a delayed diagnosis can allow the cancer to spread enough to where a mastectomy and other surgeries are required.
Cancer from untreated testicular or ovarian cancers can cause loss of fertility in men and women or the future fertility of boys and girls. If cancer cells that attack healthy bones are given the chance to spread, it could lead to amputations, organ removal, or possibly death.
Overlooking Risk Factors
Symptoms can indicate to a doctor that you may have cancer, just like a sneeze can indicate to allergy sufferers that a cat is nearby. Risk factors tell a doctor you may have a higher risk for certain types of cancer. If you have one or more cancer risk factors, you may have a higher chance of getting the disease than someone without those same risk factors.
If you have a medical or family history of a certain cancer, and you are showing signs of that cancer, your doctor should be ordering additional tests for you.
Examples of common risk factors for various cancers can include:
- Family history
- Medical history
- Excess alcohol use
- Tobacco use
- Prior disease
- Lack of exercise
- Genetic mutations (BRCA1 or BRCA2 and others)
If you display symptoms for a particular cancer and you have one or more risk factors, your doctor should be asking you serious questions to assess your risk. If your doctor fails to do so, he or she may be avoiding responsibilities and may be liable in cases of medical malpractice.
New Cancer Cases
There will be about 1,762,450 new cancer cases and 606,880 cancer deaths in the United States this year, according to the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2019.
A portion of these deaths could be prevented or delayed if doctors diagnosed their patients correctly. If you suspect that your doctor failed to diagnose you or your loved one’s cancer correctly, a medical malpractice lawyer may be able to help.