Cancer misdiagnosis: All too frequent, but is it malpractice?

It would be wonderful if cancer diagnosis were a more precise and foolproof science than it is today. Unfortunately, many cancer diagnoses in Kentucky are missed until the disease has progressed to the point of being difficult, if not impossible, to treat. According to the book "Malignant" by S. Lochlann Jain, this is particularly true of younger people, since symptoms of a cancerous condition can easily be overlooked or mistaken for something less serious when patients are young.

One 2013 study illustrates the gaping discrepancy between cancer specialists' perception of cancer misdiagnosis, and statistical reality. The study, performed by the National Coalition on Health Care as well as Best Doctors, Inc., discovered that out of the 400 doctors studied, zero to 10 percent of patients receive a delayed or wrong diagnosis. The actual statistics, however, indicate that this may be closer to 28 percent. It is unclear from the study what patient expectations are in this regard.

One woman describes a delayed diagnosis of ovarian cancer. She described feeling full all the time, and had bowel complaints and fatigue. Her general practitioner prescribed more fiber. A year after consuming prune juice and wheat bran every day, she had not improved. By the time diagnostic tests were ordered, the cancer had progressed to an allegedly incurable stage. Sometimes misdiagnosis can be devastating, as well. Cancerous cysts and tumors need to be handled differently than benign ones. One woman claimed to have undergone surgery for an ovarian cyst that her doctor assumed was benign. When he removed it, he saw something suspicious on the other ovary. He did not wait for the pathology report on the area he had removed, and immediately cut into the other area, which turned out to be cancerous. This released cancer cells into her body.

When is a missed or delayed cancer diagnosis considered malpractice? It depends. If a younger patient's diagnosis was missed due to age, this can indicate medical negligence. If a diagnostic test is misread, this may also indicate incompetent practices. If all tests were diligently performed and cancer was still not detected on time, this may not be malpractice. However, this is an area in which all the speculation in the world won't provide legally sound answers. A Kentucky personal injury attorney can help determine whether a missed or late cancer diagnosis is grounds for litigation.

Source: New York Times, "Missing a Cancer Diagnosis" Susan Gubar, Jan. 02, 2014

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