A Failure to Diagnose Cancer: What Are My Rights?

By Peter DePaolis

Cancer is unpredictable.

A person might develop cancer due to genetics, exposure, lifestyle, or pure bad luck. Cancer development is often out of everyone’s control. But when it comes to diagnosing cancer correctly and receiving treatments quickly, that is under someone’s control.

Receiving prompt treatment, which means an early or timely diagnosis, increases the likelihood a person will survive cancer. When a family doctor, radiologist, or even a specialist fails to diagnose cancer, you and your family are deprived of an opportunity to fight back and live through a devastating disease.

Furthermore, you might lose months with loved ones or only have a few weeks left of life by the time you are diagnosed correctly.

When a healthcare professional does not diagnose cancer, it is devastating for you, your loved ones, and anyone close to you.

Misdiagnosis is one of the leading reasons for medical malpractice, and often, it is preventable. Therefore, you and your loved ones might wonder what your options are for holding physicians accountable when they do not diagnose you properly and take years away from your life.

Malpractice and Failure to Diagnose in Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland

Failure to diagnose cancer is a common reason for misdiagnosis malpractice claims. However, not all misdiagnosed episodes of cancer are matters of malpractice. Instead, it comes down to the type of cancer, the stage it was discovered, the symptoms you had, the tests your doctor performed, and what your doctor did or did not do at the time.

A misdiagnosis might end up being nothing more than a tragedy if the doctor did follow their obligation to his or her patient and did the same tests and diagnostic workup another physician would have done as well.

If, however, your doctor deviated from the expected standard of care and you now suffer the consequences of a missed cancer diagnosis, you may have a case against them.

Some common indicators of malpractice when it involves a failure to diagnose cancer includes:

  • Dismissing patient symptoms or complaints. You might have given your physician the information he or she needed to make an accurate diagnosis. You may have told him you had headaches or said to her that you suffered stomach aches. If your doctor continually dismissed your symptoms or wrote them off as something else, they may have breached their duty of care. A physician must listen to a patient’s chief complaints, especially in a diagnostic workup, because a minor symptom could pinpoint what is going on with that patient.
  • Failing to order the necessary diagnostic tests. Your doctor might have listened to your symptoms and concerns, but instead of doing diagnostic tests to rule things out, they diagnosed you with something else entirely. Physicians cannot blindly diagnose. Instead, they must rely on scans and bloodwork (at a bare minimum) to help them pinpoint what illness you might have.
  • Failing to follow through with biopsies and other tests. If your bloodwork or scan indicates a tumor or an abnormality, your physician should follow through with other diagnostic tests to rule out cancer. For example, a mass in the stomach should receive a biopsy to ensure it does not contain cancer cells. Skipping this step is malpractice.
  • Misreading diagnostic tests. Perhaps your physician followed through with the tests, but they did not read them or they misread them. Tests are only indicators, and misinterpreting a test could leave a patient with an improper diagnosis.
  • Misdiagnosing the patient with a different disease. Often, patients are misdiagnosed with some other condition rather than cancer. A patient might be told they have gastritis rather than cancer of the stomach lining, for example.

Common Cancer Diagnosis Errors

There are hundreds of types of cancers, and each with their various stages. However, the most common examples of cancer diagnostic errors include:

  • Breast Cancer: Diagnosed as a non-cancer containing cyst or inflammation of the tissue.
  • Lung Cancer: Diagnosed as pneumonia, asthma or bronchitis.
  • Colorectal Cancer: Diagnosed as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s Disease, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
  • Leukemia: Diagnosed as the flu, general fever, or an autoimmune disorder.
  • Pancreatic Cancer: Diagnosed as inflammation of the pancreas or gallstones.
  • Skin Cancer: Diagnosed as a liver spot, skin tag, benign growth, or pimple.
  • Thyroid Cancer: Diagnosed as Graves Disease, goiter, or Lyme Disease.

The Effects of Diagnostic Errors for Cancer Patients

When a physician does not diagnose cancer accurately, the patient suffers in numerous ways. Most importantly, they lose out on treatment options. When cancer is caught in its early stages, it might still be operable, it may not have spread to other organs of the body, and it could respond well to chemotherapy or radiation therapy. However, a patient misdiagnosed goes through life while cancer spreads. And by the time they are diagnosed, it could have spread, become inoperable, or no longer will respond to chemotherapy – reducing a patient’s lifespan by years (sometimes decades).

Even if the patient is still a candidate for surgery and chemotherapy, they may have to endure more rounds and more serious surgeries than they would have if the cancer were diagnosed correctly in the beginning. The procedures are expensive, costly, and often painful. A patient’s quality of life and the interactions they have with loved ones diminish tremendously.

In the worst case, a patient dies before receiving the right diagnosis. Only during the autopsy is it discovered they were misdiagnosed and instead suffered from cancer.

Holding Physician’s Responsible – Speak with a Malpractice Attorney

If you were misdiagnosed with another illness but you had cancer, you may be entitled to compensation. Compensation in these cases covers more than just your medical expenses. It also considers your lost wages, pain and suffering, and the loss your family might receive because your life was significantly shortened due to a devastating diagnostic error.

Hold physicians, specialists, laboratories, and other health care professionals responsible for their misdiagnosis. Speak with an attorney from Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP, today. We can assist you with your malpractice case.

Schedule your appointment at one of our three office locations or contact us online.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.