Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among American men. Recent studies by the American Cancer Society estimates about 233,000 new cases of prostate cancer, and that 29,480 individuals will die from the disease, which usually afflicts men over 50. African-American men are more likely to get prostate cancer than other racial groups, and they have the highest death rate. When discovered in its early stages, prostate cancer can be treated with a very good chance of survival. However, once it begins to grow quickly or spreads outside of the prostate, this disease can be difficult to treat and is potentially deadly.
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is cancer that forms in the tissues of the prostate. The prostate is a walnut-sized gland in the male reproductive system, making most of the semen that carries sperm. It is located beneath the bladder and surrounds the upper part of the urethra (the tube that carries semen and urine out of the body).
Prostate cancer often causes no symptoms until it is in an advanced stage. Nonetheless, about 85 percent of American men with prostate cancer are diagnosed in early stages of the disease when the cancer is contained within the prostate, in part because prostate cancer tends to be a slow growing cancer.
Prostate cancer affects primarily older men, with about 80 percent of reported cases in men over the age of 65. Less than 1 percent of cases are in males under 50.
Risk factors include a diet with a substantial amount of red meat, and a family history of prostate cancer in close relatives (fathers, brothers and sons). Job hazards also increase the risk of getting prostate cancer, including such occupations as welders, battery manufacturers, rubber plant workers, and workers frequently exposed to the metal cadmium.
How is prostate cancer diagnosed?
If a tumor causes the prostate gland to swell, or once the cancer spreads beyond the prostate, one or more of these symptoms may result:
- Frequent need to urinate, especially at night
- Difficulty starting or stopping a stream of urine
- Weak or interrupted urinary stream
- Leaking of urine when laughing or coughing
- Inability to urinate when standing up
- Painful or burning sensation during urination or ejaculation
- Blood in urine or semen
Advanced prostate cancer in later stages may cause symptoms such as a dull, deep pain in the pelvis, lower back, ribs or upper thighs. It may also cause loss of weight and appetite, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, swelling of lower extremities, or weakness or paralysis in the lower limbs.
In the absence of symptoms, two primary screening tests help physicians diagnose prostate cancer. One test involves a digital rectal exam conducted by a physician to find in the prostate hard or lumpy areas known as nodules. The second test involves screening a blood sample to look for a substance made by the prostate known as “prostate-specific antigen” (PSA). Elevated PSA levels suggest the presence of cancer.
Neither test is fool proof. A digital exam only allows for examination of a portion of the prostate. Men with mildly elevated PSA may not have prostate cancer, and men with no spike of PSA may have the cancer. Two recent major studies concluded that there is no difference in the life expectancy of men who receive regular PSA tests and those who do not. Nonetheless, the American Cancer Society recommends regular testing of men who are at high risk of developing prostate cancer (African
American men, and men with a close relative who had prostate cancer before the age of 65).
The only way to confirm a diagnosis of prostate cancer is to conduct a biopsy to allow a urologist to examine prostate cells under a microscope.
The five-year survival rate of prostate cancer diagnosed in early stages is 99 percent. The majority of prostate cancer (81 percent) is detected in Stage I (localized to the prostate). Stage II of the cancer (spread to nearby lymph nodes) involves 12 percent of cases in the U.S. When the cancer metastasizes to different areas of the body, the survival rate drops dramatically to roughly 30 percent.
Surgical removal of a prostate tumor is a viable option for early stages of the cancer, assuming a patient does not have other significant health conditions such as heart disease. Another treatment option is radiation therapy, either from an external beam or radioactive tumor seeding (brachytherapy). Prostate cancer generally does not respond well to chemotherapy, which is typically only used to treat men with advanced or recurrent prostate cancer. Hormone therapy is used on older men who are too physically debilitated for active treatment, and for men with a more advanced disease.
Because prostate cancer is often diagnosed in older men and tends to grow slowly, some patients opt for a “watch and wait” surveillance of the disease.
Missed or delayed diagnosis of prostate cancer
A delayed diagnosis of prostate cancer can lead to harsher treatments and decreased likelihood of survival. How do physicians fall short of the legal standard of medical care when assessing the presence of prostate cancer? This can happen in a number of ways.
For example, your primary care physician may ignore or not appreciate the significance of symptoms you might be experiencing and fail to order follow up testing. A primary care physician may not properly screen a patient with a high risk of getting prostate cancer. A specialist (urologist) may misread a blood test or biopsy sample, or may not properly conduct a biopsy.
A laboratory may commit an error, such as mishandling or misplacing a biopsy sample, or misinterpreting test results. It may be something as simple as miscommunication, such as a lab failing to timely or accurately report biopsy results to your doctor, or your doctor failing to inform you about the test results.
Did a delayed diagnosis of prostate cancer increase my chance of death?
Prostate cancer patients who would have had a near certain prognosis of cure and survival with an early diagnosis can recover for an “increased chance of death” or harsher treatment regimens they have to endure as a result of a delayed diagnosis of their cancer.
Powers & Santola, LLP, can build clear, compelling cases for recovery in delayed diagnosis cases. Our attorneys are dedicated to providing outstanding legal representation to individuals who have been harmed by a needlessly delayed diagnosis of cancer. Combining our knowledge, talent, and commitment to fundamentally changing the lives of our clients and their families for the better, we help clients find answers to difficult questions, and obtain full and fair compensation for the harm caused by medical malpractice.
Founded in 1987, Powers & Santola, LLP, has an extensive track record of success, and reputation for excellence. We devote our full attention and resources to a limited number of very seriously injured clients in New York and other states.When we agree to represent someone, we resolve that our services will be dedicated to helping that person improve his or her life for the better, which entails devoting substantial resources to each case that we handle.
We are here to help you assess your legal rights and find the answers you need. To talk with us about a lawsuit involving a delayed diagnosis of prostate cancer, call Powers & Santola, LLP, at 518.465.5995 or contact us online.