Being a cancer patient is not easy. One of the hardest things for patients and their families to hear is that the cancer has spread. When this happens, it is called metastasis. It signals that the cancer is now going to be more difficult to treat.
For example, once melanoma metastasizes, the five-year survival rate drops from 91 percent to 16 percent. For breast cancer, it drops from 89 percent to 25 percent.
If the metastatic tumor is caught early on, however, it may be easier to control. A delayed metastatic cancer diagnosis is much more difficult.
What is Metastatic Cancer?
Simply put, metastatic cancer is any cancer that has spread from its original location in the body to somewhere else in the body. Almost any type of cancer can spread. Most commonly, cancer will metastasize to the bones, lungs and liver.
During metastasis, cancerous cells spread into the tissue around the primary tumor. They are then absorbed into the blood or lymph fluid and transported to other parts of the body. Some of the cells will die in transit, but others may survive.
At some point, the cancerous cells will stop moving as they reach the end of the tiny blood vessels called capillaries. They then multiply at that new location and even begin stimulating the growth of new blood vessels. The new blood vessels keep the cancerous tissue supplied with oxygen and nutrients. If it can resist the body’s own immune system, the tumor continues to grow.
How is Metastatic Cancer Diagnosed?
Usually, once a patient is diagnosed with cancer, doctors will be on the lookout for signs of metastasis. Patients who have metastatic cancer may or may not show symptoms immediately. If they do, those symptoms will typically be localized in the area of the metastatic tumor.
If cancer metastasizes to the bones, for example, the patient may experience fractures or bone ache. Sometimes, these symptoms are experienced even before symptoms of the original cancer. In this case, it can occasionally be difficult to determine where the primary tumor originated.
Tumors that show up in new places are called metastatic tumors. Yet, they are still classified as the original type of cancer. So, if a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, and the cancer then metastasizes to her liver, her condition is now called “metastatic breast cancer.”
One reason for this is that metastatic cancer cells tend to share molecular features with the original cancer cell. Indeed, the two tumors will look similar under a microscope.
How Can Metastatic Cancer Be Treated?
Metastatic cancer is generally treated according to the original diagnosis. Thanks to the shared molecular traits between the primary and metastatic tumors, a doctor will normally recommend treatments that are shown to be effective for the primary cancer. Once cancer has metastasized, the patient’s condition is quite advanced.
For most cancers, the prognosis significantly worsens after metastasis occurs. It is rare to eradicate metastatic tumors entirely. Treatments usually focus on preventing further tumor growth and increasing the patient’s quality of life.
Depending on the type and state of the cancer, treatment may include one or more of the following:
It is possible to treat metastatic cancer even if the primary cancer has not been found.
Why is Metastatic Cancer Misdiagnosed?
There are many ways that metastatic cancer may be misdiagnosed, including but not limited to:
- Poor communication between doctors. In the case of a cancer diagnosis, the patient’s general practitioner will likely work with other specialists during treatment such as radiologists, surgeons or pathologists. If medical records and information about symptoms are not shared between all the relevant medical professionals, warning signs of metastasis may go unheeded.
- Failure to order appropriate tests. Doctors must be hyper-vigilant with cancer patients to detect metastatic tumors early. If they suspect metastasis, they should order biopsies, X-rays, MRIs or other tests.
- Poorly performed tests. If biopsies and other tests are applied inexpertly, they cannot return reliable results.
- Failure to interpret tests correctly. Once the doctor gets the test results back, he or she must use the utmost care when interpreting them. Otherwise, a doctor might mistakenly report a metastatic tumor as benign or may even overlook abnormalities entirely.
Consequences of a Delayed Metastatic Cancer Diagnosis
The longer a metastatic tumor goes undiagnosed, the longer it can grow unchecked. The cancerous cells can multiply and build up more blood vessels. The more advanced the metastatic cancer is, the more challenging it is to treat. So, the main consequence of a delayed metastatic cancer diagnosis is a worse prognosis that what the patient might otherwise have been given.
The patient may also need to undergo more intensive or invasive treatments. If caught early on, the metastatic tumors may be controlled with less aggressive treatment. Since metastatic cancer is generally incurable, the medical focus is on lifetime therapy. Gentler treatments may be possible if the tumor is still small. If the tumor has had to time to grow, the patient may need aggressive treatment that causes greater pain (both physical and psychological) and adverse side effects.
Did a Delayed Diagnosis of Metastatic Cancer Increase My Chance of Death?
Of course, every patient and every metastatic cancer case is different. It is impossible to know with certainty what would have happened in the case of an earlier diagnosis. However, patients whose doctors gave a delayed diagnosis are protected under the law.
Metastatic cancer usually involves aggressive treatment and daunting prognoses. So, time is of the essence when it comes to giving patients the best chance at a long life.
Doctors and other medical professionals who are negligent in their care and fail to diagnose metastatic cancer in a reasonable timeframe can and should be held accountable.
If you or a loved one were the victim of a metastatic cancer delayed diagnosis, you should seek experienced legal counsel as soon as possible. At Powers & Santola, LLP, we will be in your corner, fighting to seek the compensation you deserve. We are committed to improving our clients’ lives and pursuing justice for them. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.
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