What is Cancer?
Our bodies are built with trillions of cells that have different jobs that allow us to function. Cancer is a disease that strikes when abnormal cells develop within our bodies. This problem gets worse when the abnormal cells start attacking the body’s tissues and moving to different parts of the body.
According the Center for Disease Control, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the USA. One of every four deaths in the USA is due to cancer.
Great advances have been made in the prevention, treatment, and effort to cure cancer. However, many doctors miss the early signs of cancer which can result in death or much shorter life expectancy.
Signs and Symptoms of Cancer
There are more than 100 types of cancer. They can have their own unique signs and symptoms. For example, a change in the size or shape of a breast can indicate breast cancer. Rectal bleeding can indicate colon cancer. Back pain can indicate testicular cancer. A rash can indicate skin cancer. Weight loss can indicate ovarian cancer. Pain during intercourse can indicate cervical cancer.
Of course, these complaints can be indications of other far less serious conditions. That is why it is vital for the doctor to do a thorough work up that rules out cancer.
Be sure to visit your doctor if you are experiencing some of the following conditions that might indicate cancer:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Changes in bowel or bladder function
- Changes in skin color
- Unexplained weight loss
Misdiagnosis of Cancer; Failure to Diagnose Cancer; Failure to Timely Diagnose Cancer
Early diagnosis and treatment of cancer is crucial. Because the complaints that indicate cancer can also indicate other less serious conditions, the patient will often be sent for diagnostic testing such as the following:
- Blood testing
- Urine testing
- MRI and CT Scans
- Bone scans
- Endoscopic testing
A biopsy is the most reliable test to rule out or confirm cancer.
Failure to timely diagnose cancer occurs when the doctor misses the early signs of cancer. Failure to diagnose cancer can result from some of the following mistakes:
- Not getting a full history
- Not doing a comprehensive physical exam
- Not ordering blood tests
- Ignoring the results of tests such as blood tests
- Misreading films or slides
- Not referring to a specialist
- Not coordinating care or following up
Timely diagnosis of cancer is a matter of life and death.
Most cancers are broken down into stages. Stage 0 is when abnormal cells are found but that are still in the original place. Stage I is early stage cancer where the cancer is small and in one area. Stage II is when the cancer has started to spread. Stage III cancer has spread into nearby tissue or lymph nodes. By Stage IV, the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body. These stages also have sub-categories.
The stage of the cancer is set when the patient is first diagnosed. And that stage will remain the diagnosis even if the cancer spreads or is beaten. That is why the survival statistics for each stage don’t tell the full story.
What Doctors are Responsible for Failing to Properly Diagnose the Cancer?
The diagnosis of cancer can involve many different medical specialties. Determining who is responsible will depend on the kind of cancer.
For example, a failure to detect early signs of breast cancer might result from an OB GYN or family doctor who didn’t do a proper breast exam. Skin cancer might develop because a dermatologist failed to notice a change in the shape and color or a mole. Colon cancer might have been avoided if the primary care doctor referred the patient to a Gastroenterology to do the colonoscopy. Did the pathologist properly interpret the par smear that was sent by the OB GYN? Did the radiologist correctly read the images of the lung after the patient was referred by the pulmonologist?
What Could the Doctors have done Differently?
Because cancer is a deadly disease, doctors must take all the necessary steps to first rule out cancer in a patient who has signs and symptoms that might indicate cancer. A doctor cannot first assume that the patient has a less deadly disease and “wait and see” how the patient does for a few weeks. That time could be the difference between life and death.
Take the following example. A 45-year-old man who is overweight goes to the doctor to ask about the constipation and diarrhea problems he has been having. He has been trying to lose weight and recently dropped 30 lbs. There is no blood in the stool. The doctor suggests that the man see a nutritionist and come back in 6 months. There is a chance that the patient has irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, it much more important for the doctor to first rule out the chance that the patient has colon cancer.
Doctors can reduce their mistakes with cancer by taking some of the following steps to help detect cancer at an earlier stage:
- Take a complete history that includes a family history
- Perform a full physical examination
- Order testing
- Refer to a specialist doctor
- Make sure there is a doctor coordinating the care
- Follow up after testing
But She was Always out in the Sun and Smoked
Cancer can attack any one of us. Unfortunately, some of us are more likely to get cancer than others. Factors that can increase the risk of cancer include the following:
- Family history
- History of smoking and/or drinking
- Exposure to chemicals
- Time in the sun
Lawyers for doctors and hospitals try to present the cancer lawsuit as if the patient should have made better lifestyle choices. “She spent 30 summers lying on the beach and now her family is suing the doctor because of skin cancer?” However, the fact that a patient has a history of exposure to the sun greatly increases the risk of cancer and that is something a doctor needs to take into account when treating a patient who shows signs and symptoms of cancer.
In some cases, the lawyers for the doctors and hospitals will argue that the cancer that killed the patient was terrible but unavoidable – “It is sad, but it is a fact, his father and brother died of the same disease before they turned 45. There is no cure for it.” However, the fact that a father and brother died of a deadly cancer doesn’t take away from the fact that an early diagnosis would have given the patient a few more precious years.
Doctors must also treat former cancer patients with the knowledge that cancer can also recur in those patients. The recurrence must be detected early because it can often be beaten again if the recurrence is local. And doctors must know that some testing results are false negatives. Therefore, if the patient’s original complaints are still there, more follow up testing must be done.
How do I know if I have a Lawsuit?
For a New Jersey cancer malpractice case, your lawyer will need to hire a doctor who specializes in the same area as the doctor you are suing. For example, if your parent’s skin cancer was missed by the family doctor and a dermatologist, your lawyer will probably retain experts in family medicine and dermatology.
With cancer malpractice cases, your attorney will also need to determine if the damages in the case make a lawsuit worthwhile. For example, if you or your loved one fortunately beat the cancer quickly and now have a low risk of recurrence, the attorney might decide that the economic result might not be large enough to justify the filing of a lawsuit.
On the other hand, if the cancer misdiagnosis result in a shorter life expectancy or death, the case might be worth pursuing because the damages are potentially bigger.
How long does the Lawsuit take?
New Jersey cancer malpractice lawsuits usually take 2-3 years after filing the lawsuit.
Contact Our Experienced New Jersey Medical Malpractice Attorneys
At Lesnevich, Marzano-Lesnevich, O’Cathain & O’Cathain, LLC, our team of New Jersey medical malpractice lawyers are experienced, dedicated, and committed to help those going through very difficult times. Contact us today at 201-488-1161 for a legal consultation with our New Jersey Personal Injury Attorneys.