Is Cancer Misdiagnosis Evidence of Negligence?

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Approximately 1.3 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year, usually by a pathologists who works in a lab and analyzes tissue samples. After reviewing samples from 6,000 cancer patients located nationwide, the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore discovered that one out of five cancer cases was misclassified and one out of every 71 cases was misdiagnosed.

Is Cancer Misdiagnosis Evidence of Negligence? Is Cancer Misdiagnosis Evidence of Negligence? Picture

A cancer misdiagnosis can occur on any biopsy, especially tissue samples from the breast, female reproductive tract, prostate and skin. A biopsy labeled cancerous when it is not can lead to the exposure of a patient to unnecessary radiation and even surgery. Medical health care professionals use the same diagnostic techniques as they did 50 years ago. Furthermore, many doctors are not even specialist in the type of cancer they are trying to diagnose. A pathologist can look at a slide and identify as cancer even a small cluster of crowded cells. In many cases, other pathologists, experts in that type of cancer, look more closely and discover that the cells were harmless.

Because there are so many types of cancer, an accurate diagnosis depends only on the medical health professional who interprets the test results. Sometimes a cancer misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis leads to unnecessary treatments or allows the cancer to grow untreated, thus reducing the life expectancy. Jennifer Rufer underwent a hysterectomy and debilitating chemotherapy at the age of 22, after a cancer misdiagnosis. Her initial diagnosis was based on a pregnancy test showing high HCG levels. The doctors say they had complete confidence in the test, because they have been using it for years.

Rufer won a a $16 million lawsuit against the company that makes the pregnancy test and the hospital. The trial lasted for 2 months and the jury decided that the test is not defective, but found the Abbott Laboratories negligent for failing to warn doctors about the false positive results. Abbott stated that it was the doctors who failed to read the medical literature about the problem of false positives or did not pay attention to the warnings.

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In order to prove that a cancer misdiagnosis was the result of medical negligence, there must be evidence of an unfavorable outcome before any compensation is awarded to the injured. To prevail in a medical malpractice lawsuit, patients must prove that a relationship between the doctor and patient existed, the doctor was negligent, did not provide a competent treatment and that the patient was injured because of medical negligence. Due to the fact that a cancer misdiagnosis itself is not evidence of negligence, it is important to determine if the doctor acted competently by performing an evaluation of what he did or did not in making treatment and diagnosis determinations.

In a malpractice case based on cancer misdiagnosis, the patient must prove that another physician in a similar special and under similar circumstance would have placed the correct diagnosis. This means proving the fact that the doctor did not include the correct diagnosis on the differential diagnosis list and that another competent doctor would have or that the doctor included the correct diagnosis but failed to perform the appropriate tests and did not investigate its viability. The doctor might not be liable for medical malpractice if the diagnostic equipment was faulty or other human errors occurred.