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Causes of Delayed Cancer Diagnosis

Doctor caring for woman with cancer

A recent study of missed and delayed medical diagnoses – most of which involved cancer – characterized the current diagnostic process as being too complex and chaotic. Breakdowns in the process can often occur. As a result, the failure to timely diagnose cancer occurs frequently.

At Powers & Santola, LLP, we help individuals and families in New York and across the county to seek compensation they need to deal with the aftermath of a delayed cancer diagnosis. Our law firm features attorneys who have been widely acclaimed for their work in the area of medical malpractice. They can provide a thorough review of your case.

To learn more, please contact us today. We can provide a free consultation.

How Frequently Does a Delayed or Missed Cancer Diagnosis Occur?

In the study cited above, which was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 59 percent of the missed diagnoses were related to illnesses eventually identified as cancer. The most commonly misdiagnosed forms of cancer were:

The researchers found that 59 percent of the medical errors identified led to adverse physical outcomes that were significant or major. Thirty percent led to a patient’s death.

In another study of lung cancer diagnoses, physicians who reviewed cases of delayed diagnosis identified “missed opportunities” for a diagnosis in 37.8 percent of the cases analyzed.

Common Causes of Delayed Diagnosis of Cancer

The reasons cancer is not always diagnosed in a timely manner include:

Failure to obtain an adequate history or to perform an adequate physical examination.

Pressed for time, doctors sometimes find it easier to assume your complaints have a benign cause. For example, they might attribute rectal bleeding to hemorrhoids. They may diagnose a cough as a mere upper respiratory infection.

Hereditary and environmental factors or certain lifestyle choices such as smoking may indicate a high risk of cancer. However, because a doctor failed to ask the right questions, the doctor may never learn of these risk factors.

Failure to order appropriate diagnostic tests and/or to create a follow-up plan.

Initial physical examinations typically do not reveal cancer. However, your doctor should not ignore or minimize your complaints. The doctor should follow up by ordering proper tests. It is also negligent to rely on a less-than-definitive means of diagnosis such as a mammogram for breast cancer. In fact, a definitive diagnosis can only be made with a biopsy.

Failure to perform diagnostic tests correctly.

Once tests are ordered by a doctor, they are usually assigned to a less experienced physician’s assistant or a medical technician to perform. Most of these paraprofessionals are adequately trained and conscientious. However, they are also often overworked. Fatigue, especially among young medical personnel in large institutions, is often a contributing factor to errors and lapses in judgment. Sometimes, tests that are ordered may never even be conducted.

Failure to properly read and interpret test results.

Doctors, radiologists and other medical professionals regularly interpret chest X-rays, mammograms, PAP smears, biopsies and similar tests incorrectly. Test results can also be mixed up or mislabeled, resulting in the wrong information appearing in records.

These types of mistakes may be due to:

Often, multiple factors are involved in a cancer diagnosis that is not made in a timely manner. The institution itself may be at fault. Protocols followed by the medical center or equipment used may be outdated or inadequate. Supervisors may well know that staff members regularly ignore protocols, but the supervisors may fail to correct the problem.

We Investigate and Pursue Delayed Cancer Diagnosis Cases

By most accounts, the U.S. health care system is not working very well. Costs are staggering. Facilities are understaffed. Physicians and other providers are constantly being asked to do more with less. Patients often receive just a few minutes of their doctor’s time — if they ever actually see a doctor at all.

For these reasons and others, incidents of delayed cancer diagnosis are far more frequent than they should be. None of these factors is excusable.

The attorneys of Powers & Santola, LLP, can help if you believe you or a loved one has been harmed because a cancer diagnosis was not promptly made by your medical care providers. We will help you gather your medical records and have them reviewed by medical professionals we regularly consult. Where we find indications of preventable errors, we will move forward aggressively on your behalf.

To speak with one of our attorneys about a potential delayed diagnosis of cancer, call us today or reach us online.

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