Failure to Diagnose is Particularly Devastating for Cancer Patients
Amid the constant and tense stream of health care news coming out of Washington, D.C., it was recently announced that a key player in the debate, Senator John McCain of Arizona, is battling glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer. Because it can rapidly grow, glioblastoma, which can cause seizures and memory problems, is very difficult to successfully treat; in adults, there is about a 30% chance of two-year survival. For someone of McCain’s age (he’s 80), the survival rate is especially grim — the chance of living beyond 5 years is about 4%. Still, McCain has the opportunity to pursue treatment and surgeries because, even though his cancer is aggressive, it was properly diagnosed in time for him to consider his medical options.
Early Diagnoses is a Matter of Life and Death
When it comes to cancer, early discovery and treatment can make the difference between life and death. It sounds dramatic, but the statistics back it up. For example, more than 90% of women with ovarian or breast cancer survive beyond 5 years of their diagnoses if their cancer is discovered at its earliest stage. For lung cancer, people with early diagnoses have a 70% chance of living beyond five years, while people at a later stage only have a 14% chance of survival beyond five years. Thanks to early detection, the percentage of people who die from cancer has fallen by 20% over the last thirty years. Even for an aggressive form of cancer, like glioblastoma, early diagnose and treatment can still make a difference.
The Fatal Consequences of a Failure to Diagnose
This is why a doctor’s failure to diagnose cancer can be so devastating. Failure to diagnose occurs when a doctor fails to recognize a patient’s illness or misdiagnoses an illness, leading to a delay of treatment, or a total lack of treatment. Because failure to diagnose can have life-threatening results, it falls under the umbrella of medical malpractice. For a patient with cancer, a doctor’s behavior might be considered medical malpractice if they:
- Dismiss the patient’s symptoms, or mistake their symptoms for another illness
- Fail to properly perform routine tests, like mammograms or prostate exams
- Misread tests, scans, or other results that would have shown the patient’s cancer
- Do not diagnose the cancer at all
A doctor might fail to diagnose cancer through a human error, like an improperly read scan. Or, it could be a result of negligence or recklessness. Regardless of the cause, a failure to diagnose can be a deadly issue for cancer patients. While it may not seem like a serious issue when compared to a surgical error, for example, failure to diagnose is still medical malpractice. Cancer patients, at this difficult time of their lives, deserve much, much better.
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