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Why failing to diagnose cancer is a major medical error

On Behalf of | Feb 18, 2024 | Failure To Diagnose

A cancer diagnosis is often the last thing that someone wants to receive from a medical professional. Cancer is a debilitating condition that requires treatment that can significantly diminish someone’s quality of life. Many people battling cancer require invasive surgery, chemotherapy and other types of treatment that can leave them very ill.

While the average patient might prefer a less serious explanation for their symptoms, receiving a minor diagnosis when the true cause of someone’s symptoms is cancer is a major medical error. If a doctor misdiagnoses someone who has cancer, the patient likely faces a much worse prognosis because of that error.

Best practices for medical professionals include the intentional attempt to rule out cancer and other serious illnesses before reaching another diagnostic conclusion. Why is a mistake when diagnosing a patient who has cancer such a concerning error?

Cancer can spread rapidly

Some types of cancer grow relatively slowly and may not worsen substantially even if a doctor’s mistake delays a patient’s diagnosis by months. Other times, a doctor diagnosing someone with the wrong condition might have a drastic impact on that patient’s long-term prognosis. Cancer often metastasizes or spreads to other parts of the body as it grows. Some types of cancer can spread to the rest of the body within weeks. If a patient doesn’t receive an accurate and prompt diagnosis, they might progress from having treatable cancer to being at risk of dying.

Treatment options change as cancer develops

Not only does someone’s chance of death increase with a delayed diagnosis, but their options for treatment also dwindle. Some of the least-invasive and most effective forms of cancer treatment are only available during the early stages of cancer development. The surgical removal of cancerous growth or the treatment of someone’s condition with immunotherapy may only be an option if a doctor diagnoses them early. Those who have cancer that has spread may need to undergo far more invasive and debilitating forms of treatment, such as systemic chemotherapy.

When patients can show that a doctor failed to conduct testing or acknowledge self-reported symptoms that could have led to an accurate diagnosis, they may have grounds to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit after a delayed cancer diagnosis. Understanding the impact that medical errors can have on someone’s health, finances and quality of life might motivate them to take legal action in response to a diagnostic failure.