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Late Diagnosis of Treatable Cancers

For most cancers, the earlier treatment begins, the better the prognosis. In fact, many cancers can be cured if detected early. Unfortunately, many types of cancer are not discovered because doctors, including general practitioners and OB/GYNs, fail to perform the proper screenings, recognize the symptoms or misinterpret test results. An individual who now has cancer, which would have been treatable if detected earlier, may have a medical malpractice claim against a doctor who failed to diagnose it or misdiagnosed it.

Colon cancer is curable if detected early. While many doctors do recommend screening for their patients, there are, unfortunately, many others who fail to do the testing that is necessary to detect colon cancer. In addition, even if a doctor does test for blood in the stool at an office visit, this may not be enough. Fecal occult testing, such as Hemoccult®, may be a better option because polyps do not generally bleed every day, and with this type of testing, the individual takes samples on consecutive days.

Sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy are also tests for colon cancer. In a sigmoidoscopy, a doctor examines the sigmoid colon and the descending colon (the lower parts of the colon) for signs of cancer or polyps, which may become cancerous. A colonoscopy is like a sigmoidoscopy, but it allows the doctor to see the entire colon, not just the lower parts. In both colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy, the doctor inserts a slender, hollow tube with a tiny video camera into the colon. Air that is gently blown into the colon allows the space to remain open so the doctor can see clearly. A colonoscopy is the standard of care for individuals over the age of 50, and it needs to be done every seven to ten years. Many people are intimidated by the procedure and some doctors do not suggest it, but it can save lives.

Prostate cancer generally spreads slowly, and if detected early, is sometimes curable. Unfortunately, many doctors do not screen for prostate cancer. A screening for prostate cancer is very easy — it is a blood test that checks PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels. A high PSA level (above 4) may indicate that a person has prostate cancer or a noncancerous condition, such as prostatitis or an enlarged prostate. Thus, a sufficiently high PSA level may require additional testing. If a doctor failed to do additional testing after a patient had high PSA levels, and the patient later developed prostate cancer, this could amount to actionable medical malpractice.

According to the National Cancer Institute, testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 35. Testicular cancer is treatable and often curable if found early. While it is easy to detect, many doctors do not check for it during routine physical exams. In many cases, it is the man who discovers testicular cancer, often by accident and at a later stage.

Brain tumors can be benign, with no cancer cells, or malignant, with cancer cells. Brain tumors typically spread quickly. There are several symptoms that may indicate brain tumors including: headaches; nausea; changes in vision, speech or hearing; unsteady gait; problems with memory; muscle twitching; seizures; and numbness in the extremities. If a person has persistent headaches that do not get better, a doctor should check for the presence of tumors by ordering a CAT scan or MRI. In addition, if a person experiences problems with his or her vision, including worsening peripheral vision, he or she should be referred to an ophthalmologist. Tumors in the brain can cause pressure in the optic nerves, which may cause worsening vision. 

Breast cancer is something that most people are familiar with, in part because of how highly publicized it is. After age 40, women should have annual mammograms and breast exams by their doctors, and many women do ask for them and most doctors do suggest them. Women with family histories of breast cancer may be told by their doctors to have mammograms at younger ages. If a doctor fails to perform a biopsy, fails to properly monitor a lump in the breast, makes a mistake in reading a mammogram, or fails to order follow-up tests after a questionable mammogram, it can result in a late diagnosis or a misdiagnosis. If the cancer is not detected until Stage III or IV, the tumor may have spread to other parts of the body, which makes the possibility of a full recovery less likely.

Symptoms of lung cancer include coughing, coughing up blood, shortness of breath and chest pain. If a smoker has a persistent cough that does not go away, the doctor should order a chest X-ray. Even if the X-ray is negative for cancer, if the cough persists, the person may need additional tests, such as a CT scan, because X-rays cannot detect small cancers. Failure to order additional tests could amount to malpractice.

Malignant melanoma is the most deadly skin cancer, but it is completely curable if caught early. Individuals with dark-colored lesions on their bodies, especially on areas exposed to the sun like the face and neck should see a dermatologist if they do not get better. Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body, even in areas not exposed to the sun, so during an examination, a patient should be completely nude. If every inch of skin — even between the toes and under fingernails — is not checked by a doctor, the patient is being cheated. If a cancerous mole or lesion is missed by a doctor, the person may develop fatal cancer that could have been prevented.

Early detection is critical with respect to the above-mentioned types of cancer. If a doctor fails to perform appropriate cancer screenings or misinterprets test results and a patient later develops cancer that would have been treatable if detected early, the doctor could be liable for medical malpractice.

Information provided by Law Doctors.

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