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Medical Negligence: Cancer Claims

Undergoing cancer diagnosis and treatment is a very difficult experience, both physically and mentally.  Treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation put a significant amount of stress on the body, with side effects including nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and radiation burns. It’s a hard thing to go through, so it can be especially traumatic when the cancer could have been prevented or the damage minimized but for the negligence on the part of a physician or caregiver.
Like any other area of medical malpractice law, physicians treating and diagnosing cancer are held to an appropriate standard of care, and any negligent error causing injury may warrant a medical malpractice lawsuit. Most cases in this area involve a delay in the diagnosis of the cancer. In more limited cases, lawsuits can be brought concerning the negligent treatment of the cancer following diagnosis, like improper radiation or chemotherapy technique.
It is important to note that with many forms of cancer, early detection and diagnosis can significantly change the long-term impact of the disease and quality of life for the patient. Many cancer treatments are most effective before the disease spreads. Therefore, if a doctor fails to detect symptoms or recognize complaints that would lead a reasonable doctor to diagnose the cancer, the patient may be deprived of treatment options which could lead to a recovery. This could form the basis of a successful delay-in-diagnosis lawsuit.

A wronged patient can be awarded compensation for pain and suffering; anxiety and depression; loss of care, companionship and guidance; medical treatment and drug expense; lost income; loss of financial dependency; housekeeping; personal and attendant care costs; and the cost of home or hospice care.

In the unfortunate cases in which the delay or negligent treatment causes death, the loved ones of the deceased may be able to bring a medical malpractice action in the place of the deceased. In Alberta, these cases can include many of the above claims for compensation, plus funeral, burial, and memorial expenses.

Common Medical Malpractice Cancer Cases

i. Failure to Test
A physician may fail to order imaging, biopsies, blood tests, or other investigative or diagnostic tests if the patient’s complaints or symptoms are not taken seriously, a proper family or individual history is not taken, or risk factors are not recognized and investigated, causing a delay in diagnosis.

ii. Misinterpretation of Results
Radiologists and pathologists are also involved and responsible for patient care, although they typically will not even meet the patient. Proper and early diagnosis depends on the correct examination and interpretation of ultrasounds, mammograms, x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, biopsy samples and pathology slides. Failures in the interpretation of imaging and pathology samples may cause a delay in the diagnosis and the availability of treatment options for patients.

iii. Failure to Communicate
A delay in diagnosis or treatment can occur if a doctor fails to respond to or communicate test results to the patient or fails to follow up to obtain test results that have been ordered. Communication errors can also be caused by other health care professionals who may fail to properly label or handle specimens obtained for examination or fail to transmit the results of testing.

iv. Failure to Refer
A physician may fail to recognize the complexity of a diagnostic situation or appreciate the significance of certain symptoms and findings that warrant referral of the patient to a specialist for proper evaluation and assessment as well as management of the patient’s care. A failure to refer to a specialist can result in a delay in diagnosis and treatment.

v. Detection & Pre-Cancer Screening Tests
The practice of medicine now employs precancerous and early stage cancer screenings to detect and diagnose cancer in those patients most at risk for the disease. These screening tools have become standards, accepted within the medical community as tests and procedures which reduce the incidence of missed detection and assist in earlier cancer diagnosis and treatment.

A failure to perform the relevant screening tests, or failure to perform them in a timely manner, may constitute medical negligence or malpractice. Some screening tests also require a skilled radiologist to interpret the test, and this can also be subject to error.

If you think you or a loved one may have a claim relating to a cancer diagnosis and want to learn more, you can contact one of our medical malpractice lawyers here

By Michael Shepherd