Delayed diagnosis of cancer occurs when a medical professional fails to properly observe and identify signs of cancer in a patient. The grounds of a delayed diagnosis lawsuit assert that the treating medical professional had reasonable evidence of cancer signs and symptoms. However, the medical professional acted negligently by failing to investigate the possibility of cancer.
Delayed diagnosis of cancer can lead to devastating consequences. Many patients miss a critical time window during which cancer treatment may have been most effective. As a result, the time left untreated may allow the cancer to grow and spread to other parts of the body, making treatment more difficult. In some cases, delayed diagnosis leads to the inability to cure the patient’s cancer, resulting in patient death.
How Delayed Cancer Diagnosis Occurs
In many cases, a patient’s cancer does not exhibit clear signs until later stages. In these stages, the cancer may have metastasized, or spread to other parts of the body. One of the most common reasons for delayed diagnosis is the failure of doctors to identify more subtle, early symptoms of the condition. Sometimes, delayed diagnosis is unavoidable due to a lack of observable symptoms. This can be seen when cancer screening indicated false negative results.
Doctor Negligence in Delayed Diagnosis
Doctor negligence may play a significant role in delayed diagnosis of cancer that displays medically clear and suggestive symptoms. When this occurs, delayed diagnosis is the result of the doctor’s failure to follow proper cancer diagnosis processes and procedures. Failure to inquire about the patient’s condition, failure to provide appropriate testing, and failure to properly interpret symptoms and test results can contribute to delayed diagnosis.
Signs of Delayed Diagnosis
Delayed diagnosis of cancer may exhibit certain signs that patients and doctors should be aware of, including:
- Lack of improvement in patient symptoms, despite an active treatment plan designed for another condition with similar symptoms
- Failure of a medical professional to acknowledge or investigate certain symptoms described by the patient
- Failure of a medical professional to order appropriate testing for symptoms which may indicate certain types of cancer
- Evidence of miscommunication or misunderstanding among several involved medical professionals, such as staff members within a medical facility or between multiple facilities
Delayed Diagnosis of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is among the most common cancers that experience delayed diagnosis. The American Cancer Society states that less than 1 in every 200 breast cancer patients under age 40 receive a timely breast cancer diagnosis. Additionally, the majority of breast cancer deaths occur in women under age 50.
Breast Cancer Delayed Diagnosis Study
The Mayo Clinic conducted a study to analyze the increased death rate in younger cancer patients. Out of 585 breast cancer patients studied, 12 percent reported a minimum 90-day delay between a doctor’s visit and their breast cancer diagnosis. The study also revealed that women with lower financial status were statistically more likely to delay a visit after detecting an abnormality in their breasts.
Preventing Delayed Diagnosis
Experts suggest that increased awareness and education may help to reduce the incidence of delayed diagnosis of cancer, particularly in certain types like breast cancer. Due to the silent nature of cancer, a proper and timely cancer diagnosis often depends on a patient’s ability to identify and report abnormal changes in their bodies. Often, cancer will not cause physical symptoms until later stages of the disease.
Doctor and Patient Prevention
Both doctors and patients play a critical role in preventing the delayed diagnosis of cancer. Patients have a responsibility to report suspicious symptoms as soon as possible to notify doctors of abnormalities which may indicate cancer. Likewise, doctors should be more alert and aware of the need to investigate and identify cancer symptoms in patients.
Due to the general lack of medical education among the public, doctors may be the only means through which patients can be made aware of the importance of early symptom identification. Experts suggest that increased doctor education on delayed diagnosis awareness may aid in prevention. Furthermore, experts suggest that system-wide attention should be given to addressing critical gaps in understanding the nature of cancer, its development, and its progression.
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