Breast cancer is probably the most oftenreported medical negligence claim involving women. It can be defined as a new and abnormal formation of tissue as a tumor or growth. Tumors can be malignant or benign. Malignant tumors are cancerous. The tumor grows at the expense of the healthy organism. The growth infiltrates the tissue, spreads (metastasizes) and often reoccurs after attempts at surgical removal. Breast cancer is the most common malignancy among women and accounts for 27% of all cancers and 18 % of all cancer deaths. While breast cancer is one of the most common cancers it is also fortunately one of the most treatable of all human malignancies. Breast cancer is usually detected by selfexaminations, physical examination by a physician, a mammogram (an xray which detects 85% to 90% of existing breast cancers), ultrasounds, aspiration biopsies and magnetic resonance imagining (MRI`s). Women in the highrisk group for breast cancer (ages 4049) should have mammography every one to two years. Women over 50 should have annual mammography. Women with dense, fibrous breast tissue in which lesions are difficult to detect should always have a physician perform an exam as well. There is substantial controversy regarding the use of screening mammography for women under 50. Cancer cells become even more dangerous when they break away from the tumor and enter the blood stream or lymph system. This process is called metastasis. Progressive metastasis often leads to death. For this reason, a failure to properly diagnose cancer is a significant breach in medical care. Delay in the diagnosis of breast cancer arises in several contexts: (1) the physician`s failure to appropriately evaluate a complaint of a palpable mass, (2) failure to properly read a mammogram, (3) inappropriate reliance upon a negative mammogram in the face of a palpable mass, and (4) failure to perform additional tests such as aspiration biopsy and/or open biopsy of a mass. These are the most common ways in which physicians commit malpractice in connection with breast cancer.
Ovarian cancer is the most frequent cause of gynecologic cancer death because cases are detected in advanced stages of the disease. Late detection is caused because of an absence of any specific symptom while the disease is still localized, as well as the lack of effective strategies for prevention or screening. This means that by the time the diagnosis is made, it is at an advanced stage. Nearly 1 woman in 70 will develop the disease. Over the past 25 years there has been a steady increase in the ovarian cancer rate. Primary symptoms include nausea, difficult or painful eating and lower abdominal discomfort that is too vague to suggest ovarian cancer. Therefore, there is a definite need for a routine gynecologic exam. While ultrasound is considered the safe, noninvasive procedure of choice to determine the presence of a disease in the pelvic region, exploratory laparoscopes are the best way to obtain the diagnosis of ovarian cancer as it allows the physician to obtain laboratory samples that can confirm or deny the presence of cancer. Patients over 40 are at a greater risk for ovarian cancer. It develops in 4 Stages: Stage I (growth limited to the ovaries); Stage II (growth involving one or both ovaries with pelvic extension); Stage III (tumor involving one or both ovaries limited to the pelvis); and Stage IV (growth involving one or both ovaries with distant metastasis). As with other forms of cancer, the plaintiff can only recover significant damages if the disease is discovered at an early stage. Unfortunately, in 75% of all patients, ovarian cancer has spread beyond the ovary at the time of diagnosis. Diagnosis is rarely made when the patient is in Stage I of the disease. The ultimate legal question with regard to the diagnosis of ovarian cancer is whether, when the physicians saw the patient, the diagnosis should not have been missed in light of the available developmental facts.
Cancer of the cervix can be detected reliably by obtaining a Pap smear. The American Cancer Society recommends that a Pap smear be obtained every 3 years after 2 negative Pap smears were obtained at yearly intervals. Many gynecologists recommend yearly Pap smears. Cancer of the cervix is the third most frequent of the female cancers. Pap smears are read by laboratories, and it is important to examine old Pap smears to find out of they were properly read by the evaluator. Leading candidates for cervical cancer are those women in low a socioeconomic status, those who begin sexual intercourse at a young age, those who have more than one sexual partner, women who become pregnant at a young age, and women who have more than one child. Cervical cancer, which is identified early, has an excellent prognosis. The prognosis worsens with each advancing stage of the disease.
A patient cannot and should not sue a physician for the mere development of cancer, but a patient can bring a viable claim for the increased risk of harm resulting from the failure to diagnose and treat the cancer in a timely fashion. It is important to realize that a plaintiff alleging a failure to diagnose cancer has the same burden of proof as in any other medical malpractice lawsuit.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.
Additional Medical Malpractice Articles
- What Happens If I Am Injured In The Course Of Medical Treatment?
- How Do I Know If My Injury Constitutes Medical Malpractice?
- Is There A Time Limit In Which I Need To File A Lawsuit For Medical Malpractice?
- Who Can Be Held Accountable For The Medical Malpractice?
- How Much Can I Expect An Attorney To Charge To Handle A Medical Malpractice Case?
- How Much Can I Expect To Be Compensated For My Pain And Suffering?
- Time Limitations Or Statute Of Limitations For Filing A Claim
- Contributory Or Comparative Negligence
- Expert Witness Testimony
- Vicarious Liability
- Attorney Fees
- Patient Compensation Funds And Physician Insurance
- Recoverable Damages