A new report by researchers in the United Kingdom illustrates the costs and tragic outcomes that can result from delays in diagnosing cancer and sheds light on the issue in our own country.
According to the report published by Cancer Research UK, the failure to detect cancer at an early stage costs England’s health system an estimated £210 million (or $340.6 million) and impacts the survival rates of more than 52,000 patients.
Unfortunately, the report states, about 46 percent of cancer cases in the UK are not diagnosed until the disease has already reached an advanced stage.
Lung Cancer Has Highest Delayed Diagnosis Rate
As the National Cancer Institute explains, “staging” is the system that doctors use to describe the size and reach of a tumor and the extent to which the cancer has spread in a patient’s body. There are four cancer stages, with Stage 1 being the earliest stage and Stage 4 being the most advanced.
Doctors plan treatment and arrive at a patient’s prognosis based on the cancer’s stage. Generally speaking, a patient faces less treatment costs and a better chance of survival if the cancer is diagnosed at Stage 1 than at Stage 4.
For example, according to Cancer Research UK, a patient diagnosed with colon cancer at its earliest stage faces about £3,373 in treatments costs ($5,467), while a patient diagnosed with the disease at its most advanced stage faces an estimated £12,519 ($20,292) in costs. In other words, the cost nearly quadruples when the cancer is not detected earlier.
Additionally, a patient diagnosed with lung cancer at Stage 1 has about a 70 percent chance of surviving past one year, according to the researchers. However, a patient diagnosed with the disease at Stage 4 has only about a 10 percent chance of survival after one year.
Unfortunately, the Cancer Research UK report found that the majority of the UK’s lung cancer cases, or 77 percent, are not diagnosed until the cancer has already reached Stages 3 or 4. It is the cancer most likely to be detected late.
The researchers found that several other cancers frequently are diagnosed at later stages, including Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (68 percent of cases diagnosed at Stages 3 or 4), ovarian cancer (56 percent), colorectal cancer (55 percent) and prostate cancer (39 percent).
In contrast, the researchers found that 93 percent of skin cancer (melanoma) cases and 83 percent of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage (Stages 1 or 2). Arguably, screening plays a key role in detecting those cancers at earlier stages.
Early Detection of Cancer Is Vital
Interestingly, an official from Cancer Research UK said in a news release that the country’s GPs (general practitioners) are failing to diagnose suspected cancer when they should or sending patients on to specialists who can detect the disease. Of course, the same could be said for delayed cancer diagnoses in the U.S.
General practice physicians in the U.S. who are overworked and rushed or who lack experience and training may miss signs that point to cancer in patients. In some cases, they may refer a patient to a specialist who fails to properly research a patient’s family, medical or lifestyle history and misses cancer indicators that would suggest the need for more testing. The cancer may not be detected until it has reached an advanced stage.
Regardless of the reason for a delayed cancer diagnosis, it should never happen. Costs and – more importantly – lives are at stake.
When a delayed cancer diagnosis is caused by negligence or a preventable error, those who have failed their patients should be held accountable.
If you believe that your doctor or doctors were slow to determine that you or a loved one had cancer, and significant harm has resulted, you should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney without delay. The attorney can review your case and make sure your rights are fully protected.