To improve a patient’s chances of survival, it is crucial for doctors to diagnose lung cancer at the earliest possible stage. Unfortunately, too many patients are diagnosed with this disease after they have already progressed to a dangerous stage. If you believe that you or a loved one has suffered harm due to a delayed diagnosis of lung cancer, you owe it to yourself to have your case reviewed by a lawyer with extensive experience with handling these types of cases.
At Powers & Santola, LLP, we are committed to devoting the full extent of our talent and resources to a select number of cases in Albany, Rochester, Syracuse, and throughout Upstate and Western New York. Our goal is to give each case the close dedication and careful handling that it deserves. We are genuinely committed to changing our clients’ lives for the better. To discuss how we can assist you in a free initial consultation, simply call us today or contact us through our online form. We are here to help you find the answers to your questions.
What Is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer is the second-most common cancer in both men and women (not counting skin cancer). It accounts for about 13 percent of all new cancers in the U.S., the American Cancer Society reports. About 224,000 new cases of lung cancer annually are expected in the U.S., and an estimated 159,000 individuals in the country will die from lung cancer each year. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. There are many types of lung cancer, including:
- Non-small cell lung cancer – About 85 percent of lung cancers fall into this category. This type of cancer typically starts in the cells lining the bronchi (primary air passageways into the lungs), bronchioles (branches of the bronchi) or alveoli (sacs at the termination point of the respiratory tract). As non-small cell lung cancer develops, the diseased cells may make chemicals that form new blood vessels that nourish the cancer cells, which can continue to grow into a tumor large enough to be seen on imaging tests. Cells from the cancer may break away from the original tumor. Non-small cell lung cancer can spread to nearby lymph nodes. Once cancer cells reach lymph nodes, they are more likely to have spread to other organs of the body.
- Adenocarcinoma – About 40 percent of all lung cancers are of this type. It starts in the early versions of cells that would normally secrete substances such as mucus. It tends to be found in the outer part of the lung. It generally grows slower than other types of lung cancer, making it more likely to be found before it has spread outside the lung.
- Squamous cell carcinoma – This comprises about 25-30 percent of all lung cancers. It starts in squamous cells, which are flat cells that line the inside of the lung airways. This type of lung cancer tends to be found in the middle of lungs near a bronchus.
- Large cell carcinoma – This cancer afflicts about 10-15 percent of lung cancer victims. It can appear in any part of the lung and tends to grow and spread quickly.
- Small cell lung cancer – This comprises about 10-15 percent of all lung cancer cases. It often starts in the bronchi near the center of the chest and tends to spread widely through the body fairly early in the course of the disease. Small cell lung cancer is very rare for someone who has never smoked.
The general prognosis for lung cancer is poor compared to other types of cancers. The overall five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 17 percent. compared to 99 percent for prostate cancer, 90 percent for breast cancer and 81 percent for bladder cancer. The survival rate for lung cancer is low because the disease is often not diagnosed until it is in an advanced stage. The five-year survival rate is 40 to 50 percent for early stage lung cancer, but only 1 to 5 percent for advanced, inoperable lung cancer.
Risk Factors for Lung Cancer
Risk factors for lung cancer include:
- Smoking – At least 80 percent of lung cancer deaths are thought to result from smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes. Secondhand smoke causes more than 3,000 deaths from lung cancer each year. A non-smoker who lives with a smoker has about a 20-30 percent greater risk of developing lung cancer.
- Exposure to radon – This is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas resulting from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks. Radon cannot be seen, tasted or smelled.
Other leading risk factors for lung cancer include exposure to asbestos fibers, exposure to carcinogens in the workplace (chemicals or minerals), air pollution and radiation therapy to lungs for other cancers. Unfortunately, up to 25 percent of lung cancers exhibit no symptoms. Nonetheless, a physician may suspect lung cancer on a routine physical examination if you have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Persistent bronchitis or repeated respiratory infections
- Swollen lymph nodes above the collar bone
- A mass in the abdomen
- Blood in sputum (mixture of saliva and mucus)
- Weak breathing, wheezing, chest pain
- Abnormal sounds in the lungs
- Dullness when chest is tapped
- Rounding of fingernails
- Unequal pupils
- Droopy eyelids
- Weakness in one arm
- Expanded veins in the arms, chest or neck
- Swelling of the face
- Difficulty swallowing
Lung cancer may be detected on a routine chest X-ray or CT scan undertaken for another purpose. If a large airway is obstructed because of lung cancer, the lung could partially collapse and may be afflicted with pneumonia or abscesses. If lung cancer has invaded nerves, it may cause shoulder pain that travels down the outside of an arm or causes paralysis of vocal cords leading to hoarseness. Some lung cancers produce abnormally high blood levels of certain hormones or substances such as calcium. A doctor should consider the possibility of lung cancer if an individual shows such evidence and no other cause is apparent. Once lung cancer begins to cause symptoms, it is usually visible on an X-ray. A CT scan may be ordered if an X-ray doesn’t show any abnormalities or does not yield sufficient information about the extent or locations of a tumor or tumors. Various tests can confirm the presence of lung cancer, such as a lung biopsy, bronchoscopy, or examination of mucus or lung fluid. Once lung cancer is confirmed, other tests determine the type of cancer and how far it has spread. These tests determine the course of treatments for a lung cancer patient.
Early Diagnosis of Lung Cancer is Crucial for Survival
More than half of people with lung cancer die within one year of being diagnosed, the American Lung Association says.
Survival depends on how early a person’s lung cancer is diagnosed. If the disease is found while it is still localized within the lungs, the five-year survival rate is 54 percent. However, if the cancer has spread to other organs, the five-year survival rate is only 4 percent. A person found to have lung cancer may receive one or more kinds of treatment:
- Surgery to remove tumors
- Radiofrequency ablation to destroy cancer cells
- Radiation therapy to shrink tumors
- Chemotherapy to shrink tumors before surgery or to kill cancer cells after surgery
- Targeted therapy with drugs to shrink tumors or kill cancer cells.
- Palliative treatments, which are meant to relieve symptoms instead of curing disease, can also help some lung cancer patients.
How Is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?
Unfortunately, lung cancer usually does not cause symptoms in the early stages of the disease. The first likely symptom of lung cancer is a cough that cannot be linked to another problem and that does not go away or gets steadily worse.
Additionally, a person with lung cancer may experience:
- Constant chest pain that is worse with deep breathing, coughing or laughing
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Fatigue or weakness
- Frequent lung infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum.
Other symptoms of lung cancer are not connected to respiration, which means the cancer has spread beyond the lungs. They may include:
- Bone pain in the back or hips
- Headache, weakness or numbness of an arm or leg, dizziness, balance problems or seizures, which mean the cancer has spread to the spinal cord or brain
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) from cancer in the liver
- Lumps near the surface of the body caused by cancer that has spread to the skin or lymph nodes.
If you notice any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away. If you think you are at risk for developing lung cancer, talk to your doctor about being screened.
Missed or Delayed Diagnosis of Lung Cancer
A missed or delayed diagnosis of lung cancer is especially critical since the survival rates for lung cancer are substantially higher if detected in the earliest stages. Medical professionals can fail to make an early diagnosis of lung cancer for several reasons, such as:
- A radiologist misreading an X-ray, CT scan or other diagnostic test
- A pathologist misreading a microscopic sample slide
- A primary care physician failing to order appropriate follow-up tests to confirm presence of cancer
- Lab errors such as misplacing test results, mishandling samples, misreporting results, delaying reports or incorrectly interpreting test results
- The delay of appropriate treatments
- A primary care physician misreading symptoms as being caused by different afflictions and failing to order follow up tests to rule out cancer
- A failure to order a repeat examination when an initial scan shows a suspicious lesion
- A failure to follow up on diagnostic results such as failing to timely refer a patient to an oncologist for evaluation and treatment
- A primary care physician failing to appreciate the significance of symptoms or presence of abnormalities
- A failure to recommend a follow up appointment within an appropriate time period.
Non-small cell lung cancer in its earliest stages can be treated by surgical removal of a tumor. Small cell lung cancer is less likely to be localized to one area that can be removed by surgery. Radiation or chemotherapy is typically used to treat small cell lung cancer.
Our Delayed Lung Cancer Diagnosis Attorneys Can Help You
Powers & Santola, LLP, has extensive experience handling delayed diagnosis legal cases, including those involving lung cancer. Our goal is to serve you with our combination of knowledge, talent and dedication to fundamentally changing the lives of our clients and their families for the better. To discuss how we can assist you, contact us today by phone at 518.465.5995 or through our online for or chat.