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Delays in Cancer Diagnosis Can Impact Our Children

Posted on September 29, 2015 by Kelly Wolford
Child with I.V. Holding Parent's Hand

When children are in pain or experiencing troubling symptoms, their parents want to do everything in their power to get them the help they need. That means taking them to the doctor’s office. Unfortunately, doctors don’t always catch the signs of something serious, including signs of childhood cancer.

Here is a chilling example recently reported by Medical Daily:

A British teenager sought medical attention after a sports injury. She was diagnosed with a pulled muscle. However, she kept experiencing symptoms long after a pulled muscle should have recovered. So, she returned to the doctor, who kept telling her the same thing—it is just a pulled muscle.

Eventually, the girl’s mother got fed up and took her daughter to the emergency room. The hospital doctors recognized the girl’s symptoms as signs of Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. The family was devastated to know that doctors had missed signs of cancer for so long.

Here in the U.S., the White House has proclaimed September to be National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. We use this month to honor children and families who have had to struggle against this awful disease and those whose lives have been lost.

It is also a time to look ahead to the work that can still be done, including increased research on childhood cancer treatments, better screening methods and better care for children in hospitals. As doctors learn more and more about childhood cancer, they can better treat our nation’s children.

Why Are Childhood Cancers Misdiagnosed?

Cancer is much rarer in children than in adults — they account for less than 1 percent of all cancer diagnoses, according to the American Cancer Society. That is one unfortunate reason why childhood cancer diagnoses are sometimes missed by doctors.

Since doctors believe a cancer diagnosis is unlikely in a child, they may neglect to take cancer symptoms seriously. For example, brain tumor symptoms may be misinterpreted as migraines.

Doctors miss diagnoses for other reasons, too. Children, especially very young ones, might have a hard time expressing their symptoms. However, even in this case, doctors should be alert to signs that the child is experiencing pain or other difficulties. Many cancer diagnoses are delayed because doctors do not perform thorough examinations.

Comorbidity can also complicate a diagnosis. In other words, if a child already has another condition, doctors may assume that any new symptoms can be attributed to that condition rather than to cancer. The doctor may not order appropriate tests. Even when doctors do order the right testing, they sometimes misinterpret the results or overlook an abnormality entirely.

Which Childhood Cancers Are Commonly Misdiagnosed?

Childhood cancer is on the rise: Around 10,380 children will be diagnosed with cancer in 2015, the ACS reports. In fact, cancer is now the second-leading cause of death among children.

Children are more likely to get certain types of cancer, according to the ACS and other sources, including:

  • Leukemia – Cancer of the blood alone accounts for around 30 percent of all cancers in children.
  • Brain tumors – These are the second most common type of childhood cancer, making up 26 percent of all cases.
  • Lymphoma (Hodgkin or non-Hodgkin) – Lymphoma is cancer that attacks the immune system via the body’s lymph nodes.
  • Neuroblastoma – This cancer is most common in very young children, as it begins growing in the nerve cells of the fetus even before the child is born.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma – Sarcomas are cancers that attack connective tissue: In this case, rhabdomyosarcoma develops in cells that would otherwise become normal skeletal muscle tissue.
  • Wilms tumors – These also mainly effect very young children. They are cancers in the kidneys.
  • Retinoblastoma – Cancer of the eye is quite rare in children. It usually arises before the age of six.
  • Bone cancer – Older children and teens are more likely to get bone cancer than younger ones. It usually develops in areas where the bone is growing rapidly.

Fortunately, cancer treatments have become more effective than in the past, and survival rates for children are far higher than they used to be once a condition is diagnosed. The five-year survival rate for childhood cancer patients now hovers around 80 percent, which is up from 58 percent in the 1970s.

Get Legal Help if Your Child is Harmed By a Delayed Cancer Diagnosis

If you believe your child was harmed by a delayed or missed cancer diagnosis, you should seek legal help. Pursuing justice can get you answers about how and why your child’s misdiagnosis occurred. In some cases, you may be entitled to compensation for your child’s pain and suffering as well as increased medical costs.

At Powers & Santola, LLP, we fight for families who have been affected by a delayed cancer diagnosis in New York and throughout the U.S. We can aggressively seek to hold the responsible medical professionals accountable for their actions in your child’s case. We offer free initial legal reviews.