Patients put their trust in physicians to diagnose illnesses correctly. When a doctor fails to recognize and diagnose a disease—particularly severe conditions such as cancer—patients can suffer devastating effects. In many cases, early diagnosis is critical for recovery. According to the Mayo Clinic, the earliest cancer diagnoses give the greatest chances of curing the disease.
At Salango Law, experienced personal injury lawyers protect the rights of individuals whose doctors fail to diagnose cancer. If you or your loved one suffered the adverse effects of a late cancer diagnosis, consider reaching out to Salango Law at 304-342-0512 to discuss your personal situation and learn how we can help you obtain compensation and justice.
Failure To Diagnose Cancer
In some instances, a doctor’s failure to diagnose cancer or diagnosing cancer late constitutes medical malpractice. The success of cancer treatments often depends on how much cancer has progressed before patients begin chemotherapy and other treatments. If no other doctor becomes aware of the presence of cancer, the patient may die.
Cancers Respond Well To Early Treatment
Cancers that respond best to early diagnosis and treatment include:
- Breast cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Lung cancer
- Prostate cancer
Some cancers, such as colorectal and prostate cancer, benefit from screening, whereas other cancers, such as ovarian and pancreatic cancer, tend to appear later.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), delayed cancer care—or lack of treatment—causes greater problems with proper treatment, higher costs of care, and lower chances of survival. For these reasons, the WHO recommends cancer screening to promote early diagnosis.
How Do Physicians Diagnose Cancer?
Physicians and oncologists, doctors who specialize in treating cancer, have a variety of tools they can use to find cancer in its early stages. According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors may achieve early cancer diagnoses by:
- Performing physical exams, searching for lumps, changes in skin color, and enlarged organs on the patient’s body
- Doing laboratory tests, like urine and blood tests, which identify abnormalities
- Administering imaging tests that reveal bones and internal organs, such as X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, bone scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, positron emission tomography (PET) scans, and ultrasounds.
- Conducting a biopsy—removing cells from the patient and testing them for cancer
When diagnosing cancer, doctors assign cancer a stage, which indicates how much cancer has progressed. Physicians assign numbers from zero to four, which they often expressed in roman numerals, to the stages of cancer. Zero is the earliest stage, and four is the latest stage.
The stage at which a doctor diagnoses cancer is crucial, as it impacts the kinds of treatments available and the likelihood of survival. In many cases, the earlier stage cancer treatment begins, the better the chance of surviving the disease.
In general, physicians use a grading system to indicate the size of cancer, how much it has spread in the patient’s body, and how aggressive the cancer is. The grading describes how abnormal cancer is and how fast it will grow. The grades range from one (G1) to four (G4). Doctors also use grade X when they cannot determine how severe the cancer is. G1 is the lowest grade—cancer is not significantly abnormal and resembles other cells in the body. G2 is the intermediate level, and G3 and G4 are high levels, indicating severe cancer. The higher the grade, the faster cancer will grow.
Although the stage of cancer is separate from the grade, the stage and grade are oftentimes related. When late-stage cancer also has a high grade, the prognosis is usually negative—and often fatal.
Understanding cancer’s grade is crucial for treating cancer. When oncologists make errors grading cancer or fail to recognize and grade cancer, patients can suffer adverse outcomes, such as more severe illnesses and a higher likelihood of mortality.
Claims Arising From Failure To Diagnose Cancer
When a physician fails to diagnose cancer, patients may suffer negative consequences. They may experience more severe illnesses. If this occurs, they may be able to sue their healthcare providers for medical malpractice. Additionally, patients—who could have survived had they received a timely diagnosis—can die when their doctors do not diagnose their cancer before it progresses to a later stage. In this case, the deceased’s estate and dependent family members may bring a medical malpractice case against the medical professional (or medical professionals) to recover compensation.
Medical Malpractice Claims
Medical malpractice is a claim specific to healthcare providers derived from the legal theory of negligence. When an individual’s doctor is negligent, they can bring a medical malpractice claim against the doctor. In some cases, failing to diagnose cancer may constitute negligence, giving rise to medical malpractice claims.
Medical malpractice has four components that a plaintiff must establish to recover compensation.
- First, the patient must show that their physician owed them a duty of care. Usually, the doctor-patient relationship is sufficient to establish this.
- Second, the person with cancer must prove that their doctor breached the duty of care to the patient by showing that the doctor’s conduct fell below the standard of professional care. If other reasonable physicians could have diagnosed cancer, the doctor failed to fulfill a duty to the patient.
- Third, the patient must demonstrate that they suffered real harm. Suppose the patient’s cancer worsened as a result of the missed diagnosis, or the patient died. In that case, the patient suffered an actual injury.
- Fourth, the individual with cancer must show that the doctor’s actions were the cause of harm. If the doctor had diagnosed the cancer properly, the patient would not have suffered the harm.
For example, suppose a doctor performing a breast examination fails to recognize and diagnose breast cancer. However, another reasonably competent doctor would have observed the cancerous tumor. As a result of the physician’s mistake, the patient’s breast cancer progresses and becomes more difficult to treat. In this case, the patient may be able to bring a medical malpractice claim against the doctor who made a mistake.
Wrongful Death Claims
When a patient dies because a doctor failed to diagnose cancer, the patient’s estate and their family may sue the doctor to recover compensation for their losses associated with the death of their loved one. For example, if the patient was a parent with a family who was dependent on the patient’s income, family members may bring a lawsuit against the physician responsible for causing death. To prove a wrongful death claim in West Virginia, individuals must show:
In West Virginia, individuals whose physicians fail to diagnose their cancers may recover financial compensation from judgments or settlements. Types of compensation available to cancer patients include:
- Economic damages
- Non-economic damages
Economic damages give deceased people with cancer financial compensation for the measurable economic costs of injuries, like medical bills and lost wages. As economic damages are easy to calculate, lawyers can determine how much money victims lost because of the untreated development of their cancers. There is no statutory limit restricting the number of economic damages victims can receive in West Virginia. For this reason, failed cancer diagnosis victims, their estates, and their families may recover significant compensation.
In contrast to economic damages, non-economic damages are difficult to measure. Non-economic damages cover emotional distress and pain and suffering. Although West Virginia does not restrict the amount of economic damages people with cancer may recover, it does limit the amount of non-economic damages available to victims. The state adjusts this cap yearly because of inflation.
Time Limits For Failure To Diagnose Cancer Claims
Under West Virginia law, there is a specific period within which cancer patients can bring medical malpractice claims. Unfortunately, those who wait too long to file a claim lose the opportunity to pursue justice. In cases of failed cancer diagnoses, the statute of limitations refers to the time period in which people with cancer, their estates, or their families may bring lawsuits against negligent doctors.
Time Limits For Medical Malpractice Claims
In West Virginia, the law gives a two-year statute of limitations for medical practice claims. To bring medical malpractice claims for failures to diagnose cancers, patients have two years following:
- The date of the failure, or
- The date they realized their doctor made a mistake.
More often, the time limit will start on the date the patient found out their doctor made a mistake since this is when the patient first becomes aware of the need to raise a legal claim against the doctor.
Time Limits For Wrongful Death Claims
In West Virginia, the time limit for wrongful death claims is also two years. Representatives of deceased cancer patients and their family members have two years following their loved one’s death to pursue claims against the doctor who negligently ignored the victim’s cancer.
West Virginia Medical Malpractice Lawyer
A dedicated and experienced medical malpractice attorney can help anyone who has suffered an adverse health outcome because of a late or missed cancer diagnosis. If you suffered because of a failed or delayed cancer diagnosis—or a loved one suffered and passed away due to a missed or late cancer diagnosis—contact Salango Law. An experienced lawyer can assess your case and help you pursue the legal options necessary to assert your valuable rights. To set up a consultation, call 304-342-0512.