Cancer: it is a word no one wants to hear. If a cancer diagnosis is to be made, however, it is best to receive the news as soon as possible. Any delay in diagnosis can significantly alter the patient’s prognosis. These delays do happen, at times because a physician fails to appreciate the significance of a patient’s signs and symptoms.
When a patient does go to the doctor for a check-up or to have their symptoms assessed, they are trusting that their physician will make the correct diagnosis in a timely manner. In an ideal world, this is precisely what would happen after a patient noticed symptoms. However, we do not live in an ideal world, and the reality is that a substantial number of medical diagnoses – for numerous serious and potentially fatal illnesses – are missed each year by doctors trained to recognize them.
Millions die each year due to diagnostic errors
Studies show that 12 million Americans are misdiagnosed in outpatient settings each year. That number, according to the research, represents approximately 5% of patients, an amount that may be underestimated, according to some experts.
Cancer is the most frequently missed diagnosis
According to a recent article by AARP, a study published by JAMA Network Open – a monthly open access medical journal published by the American Medical Association – five of the top 10 most frequently misdiagnosed illnesses in the United States are different types of cancers. The top three most frequently misdiagnosed illnesses are all cancers: colorectal cancer, lung cancer, and breast cancer, in that order. Two other cancers made it into the top 10, with prostate cancer being ranked the fifth most frequently missed diagnosis and bladder cancer coming in at number eight on the list.
Early detection of cancer is key because it provides more treatment options. It may mean catching the cancer when it is in a less advanced stage, before it has had a chance to grow or metastasize. Metastatic cancer is cancer that has spread from its initial location in the body to other organs or to the lymphatic system. This is indicative of a more advanced stage of cancer where treatment options may be limited and the prognosis may be much worse.
Common types of diagnostic errors
Diagnostic errors are a type of medical malpractice. There are several different kinds of diagnostic errors that a physician or healthcare facility may make which can significantly impact a patient’s overall health and long-term prognosis:
- Delayed Diagnosis. A delayed diagnosis occurs when there is a substantial delay between when a patient presents their symptoms to a doctor and when the doctor eventually makes the correct diagnosis.
- Failure to Diagnose a Related Disease. If a doctor correctly diagnoses one illness or condition, but fails to diagnose an illness or condition that is commonly associated with the primary condition, the results can be deadly.
- Failure to Diagnose an Unrelated Disease. A patient may present with symptoms of more than one disease which are not related to one another. In this situation, a doctor may accurately diagnose one illness by fail to diagnose the other, unrelated disease.
- Failure to Recognize Complications. This occurs when a physician makes a correct and timely diagnosis of an illness but does not notice complications or factors that may exacerbate the patient’s illness and require alterations to the patient’s treatment plan.
- Missed Diagnosis. This occurs when a patient goes to the doctor complaining of symptoms or presenting symptoms of a disease or condition but the physician assures them that they are in good health, missing the diagnosis entirely.
- Wrong Diagnosis. Often referred to as misdiagnosis, this occurs when a doctor identifies the wrong illness or condition. This can lead to a patient receiving the wrong or unnecessary treatment, which can lead to additional health problems.
Was your cancer diagnosis delayed?
The number of people who die due to medical errors each year in the United States is staggering. If you or someone you love did not receive a timely cancer diagnosis due to a medical error, it is important that you speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. Errors made in diagnosing serious, often fatal illnesses such as cancer rob patients of treatment options and lead to worse outcomes. Doctors and healthcare facilities must be held accountable for these errors. You and your family deserve compensation for the impact a diagnostic error may have had on your illness and prognosis.
When a diagnostic error occurs, it is not uncommon for doctors and healthcare facilities to attempt to shift or deny responsibility. They may claim that the prognosis would have been the same regardless of when the diagnosis was made. In the majority of cases, this is simply not true. The South Carolina medical malpractice lawyers at McGowan, Hood, Fleder & Phillips, LLC have extensive experience fighting on behalf of patients and their families in cases where a diagnostic error occurred. We stand ready to fight for you. Call us at 803-327-7800 or reach out to us via our contact form to schedule a free consultation with one of our South Carolina medical malpractice attorneys.
Randy is the former President of the South Carolina Association for Justice. He has been certified by the American Board of Professional Liability as a specialist in Medical Malpractice Law which is recognized by the South Carolina Bar. Randy has also been awarded the distinction of being a “Super Lawyer” 10 times in the last decade. He has over 25 years of experience helping injured people fight back against corporations, hospitals and wrong-doers.
Read more about S. Randall Hood