One of the largest case settlements of all time was $15 million to a New York woman for a missed diagnoses of breast cancer requiring a mastectomy, radiation treatments and chemotherapy over a year after original discovery of a breast lump (HMI Team, 2019). This may seem to be an unusual occurrence but how common is a cancer diagnosis missed?

In 2020, there were an “estimated 1.8 million new cancer cases diagnosed and 606,520 cancer deaths in the United States” (ACS, 2021). Though the exact number of missed cancer diagnoses or misdiagnosis are unknown, various sources estimate between 28%-44% of cancer is misdiagnosed depending on the type of cancer (Marini, 2014). This often involves misinterpretation of diagnostics of early cancer symptoms, taking a poor history of the patient’s symptoms, or failure to do routine cancer screenings. When cancer is later discovered with the escalation of symptoms, it is often noted that the patient had complained early on of symptoms that were not contributed to the cancer diagnosis.

A missed diagnosis is a delay in diagnosing or failure to diagnose a disease process. When a cancer is missed, it can result in a significantly poorer outcome as the cancer has more time to spread and metastasize to other parts of the body. An established or metastasized cancer is much more difficult to treat than an early, localized cancer.  Interestingly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, routine screenings for cancer plummeted causing the risk for cancer to go unidentified in a timely manner (Wu, 2021). Many clinics were operating under subpar capacity, utilizing telemedicine or patients not wanting to go in for routine care. It is particularly important during the coming months to identify if proper screening has been conducted or proper diagnostics performed, as there may be a correlated spike in missed diagnosis resulting from COVID-19 pandemic impacts.

Cancer may also be misdiagnosed in early biopsies or diagnostics; A cancer is identified, but the type of cancer is identified incorrectly. This can be equally critical as a missed diagnosis.  A misdiagnosis may result in a suboptimal treatment plan.  For example, a cancer that is better treated with radiation therapy may be treated with chemotherapy instead.  This can result in unnecessary side effects for the patient, longer treatment requirements or failure of treatment.

Unfortunately, some people present with symptoms of cancer in the late stages, fail treatment, or have severe complications of intensive cancer therapies which are not always indicative of negligence or malpractice.  Differentiation between the two may be challenging and often requires input from oncology specialists if there is a suspicion of a missed diagnosis or misdiagnosis.   When looking at a cancer case for negligence or malpractice, it is important to note the timeline from when a patient began having symptoms to when the patient was diagnosed with cancer.  A significant time lapse may indicate a missed diagnosis, allowing the opportunity for the cancer to spread.  It is also important to note what type of diagnostics were used to identify the cancer and when the patient was referred to a cancer specialist.  Further, it is important to ensure the treatment plan coordinates with the practice guidelines for that specific type of cancer. A missed cancer diagnosis may be related to misinterpreting of lab results, failure to refer to a specialist, miscommunication with the care team, or lack of cancer screening.

Ultimately, a missed diagnosis or misdiagnosis of cancer may have costly and deadly consequences. To speak with an experienced team member, contact LEGAL NURSE CONSULTANTS USA, LLC online or call us at 877-211-7562 for a free consultation. You may also leave your contact information and a summary of your potential case, and a team member will get back to you promptly after review.

American Cancer Society (2021). Cancer Facts & Figures 2020. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/research/cancer-facts-statistics/all-cancer-facts-figures/cancer-facts-figures-2020.html

HMI Team. (2019). Top 10 Largest Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Settlements of All Time. Retrieved from https://verdictvictory.com/blog/top-10-largest-medical-malpractice-lawsuits/

Marini, A. (2014). 10 Commonly Misdiagnosed Conditions. Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/pictures/commonly-misdiagnosed-conditions/

Wu, A. (2021). Study raises renewed alarm about missed cancer diagnoses during pandemic. ABC News. Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/US/study-raises-renewed-alarm-missed-cancer-diagnoses-pandemic/story?id=81608824