What to Know About Cancer Diagnoses and Medical Malpractice

by | Jul 5, 2023 | Medical Malpractice

Few diagnoses are more traumatic than cancer, but the sooner it’s identified, the better. Overall, early cancer diagnosis can dramatically improve patient treatment outcomes, increase their survival rates, provide more treatment options, preserve quality of life, and minimize healthcare costs.

Therefore, delays in identifying cancer – or a misdiagnosis along the way – can significantly impact a patient’s well-being and prognosis. While these setbacks can be devastating, they do not always involve medical malpractice or give rise to legal action. Under certain circumstances, however, a delay in diagnosis or a misdiagnosis of cancer can very well result from medical malpractice and lead to legal claim for damages.

Missed Diagnosis or Misdiagnosis?

Understanding the difference between a misdiagnosis and a missed or delayed cancer diagnosis is essential because these terms refer to distinct situations with different implications for patients.

Misdiagnosis: A cancer misdiagnosis refers to a situation where a healthcare professional mistakenly identifies a patient as having cancer when they do not have the disease, or vice versa – when a patient with cancer is wrongly told they do not have the condition. It is a diagnostic error that can significantly affect the patient’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.

There are different types of cancer misdiagnoses:

  • False Positive: This occurs when a person is wrongly diagnosed with cancer, leading to unnecessary and potentially harmful treatments. False positives can result from various factors, such as misinterpretation of test results (e.g., imaging scans, biopsies), laboratory errors, or overreliance on screening tests with a higher chance of producing false-positive results.
  • False Negative: This happens when cancer is present but is not detected, leading to a delayed or missed diagnosis. False negatives can occur due to insufficient testing, misinterpretation of test results, sampling errors during biopsies, or tumors that do not exhibit typical characteristics in diagnostic tests.
  • Misclassification: In some cases, a misdiagnosis can involve the incorrect classification of a cancer type or subtype. Accurate cancer classification is essential for determining appropriate treatment strategies, as different types of cancer may require specific therapies. Misclassification can occur due to similarities between different types of cancer or due to limited expertise in identifying particular subtypes.

Cancer misdiagnoses can have severe consequences for patients. False positives can lead to unnecessary surgeries, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy, which can cause physical harm, emotional distress, and financial burden. False negatives or misclassifications can delay treatment, allowing the cancer to progress to more advanced stages, potentially reducing the chances of successful treatment and impacting long-term survival.

A missed diagnosis: A missed cancer diagnosis, also known as a delayed cancer diagnosis, occurs when a healthcare professional fails to recognize the presence of cancer or attributes the symptoms to a different condition, leading to a delayed cancer diagnosis. It means there is a significant gap in time between when the patient first presented with recognizable symptoms or sought medical attention and when the correct cancer diagnosis is ultimately made.

The consequences of a missed cancer diagnosis can be significant, as the delay in treatment can allow the cancer to progress to more advanced stages. This can result in more aggressive treatment requirements, reduced treatment effectiveness, poorer outcomes, and potentially a lower chance of long-term survival.

To minimize the risk of missed cancer diagnoses, healthcare professionals should maintain a high level of clinical suspicion, especially when presented with persistent or concerning symptoms. Thorough medical history-taking, careful physical examinations, appropriate ordering and interpretation of diagnostic imaging and tests, and timely referrals to specialists are essential to ensuring accurate and timely cancer diagnoses.

Elements for Building a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

Building a medical malpractice case for cancer misdiagnosis or missed/delayed diagnosis can be complex and challenging. It often requires gathering and analyzing extensive medical records, consulting with medical experts, and navigating the necessary legal processes.

More specifically, here are the key elements that are typically considered in evaluating a potential medical malpractice claim:

Duty of Care: The first element involves establishing that there was a doctor-patient relationship, meaning the healthcare professional had a duty to provide competent and appropriate care.

Standard of Care: The standard of care refers to the level of care and skill that a competent and “reasonably prudent” healthcare professional in the same specialty would reasonably provide in similar circumstances. To build a case, you must demonstrate that the healthcare professional deviated from the standards of care involved in diagnosing the cancer.

Breach of Duty: It must be shown that the healthcare professional breached that standard of care by misdiagnosing the cancer or failing to diagnose it in a timely manner. This involves comparing the healthcare professional’s actions to what a reasonable and competent healthcare professional would have done in similar circumstances.

Causation: You need to establish that the misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis directly caused harm or worsened the prognosis for the patient. This typically requires expert medical testimony to demonstrate that had the cancer been accurately diagnosed or diagnosed earlier, the outcome would have been different.

Damages: To pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit, you must show that the patient suffered harm or damage due to the misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. This can include physical pain and suffering, medical expenses, loss of income, diminished quality of life, a shortened life expectancy, and other related damages.

Statute of Limitations: Medical malpractice cases have specific time limits, known as statutes of limitations, within which a lawsuit must be filed. These time limits vary by jurisdiction, so it is crucial to be aware of and comply with the applicable deadlines.

Menzer Law Can Help

A cancer misdiagnosis may involve claims related to medical negligence, failure to meet the standard of care, or potential harm caused by missing or  unnecessary treatments. Legal claims related to a missed cancer diagnosis may also involve allegations of medical negligence, failure to diagnose, or failure to provide timely and appropriate medical care.

If you believe you have grounds for a cancer misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis lawsuit, it is crucial to seek the assistance of an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can evaluate the specifics of your case, guide you through the legal procedures, and provide personalized advice based on your circumstances.

Attorney Matt Menzer is a highly-skilled, respected, and compassionate lawyer who has provided dedicated legal representation to those who have suffered from medical malpractice or serious personal injury for over 30 years. You can count on Matt to protect your rights and help you achieve compensation. Contact Menzer Law at 206.649.1657 or fill out this online form, and our team will review your claim at no cost.