FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2012-03-29
With early detection and effective intervention, breast cancer can be a highly treatable form of cancer. But delays in diagnosis and treatment can rapidly become deadly.
With help from a breast cancer misdiagnosis lawyer, patients or their families can hold doctors who negligently miss signs of breast cancer accountable. In one recently concluded case, a jury awarded a breast cancer victim $15 million after her physician ordered no further tests following an inadequate cursory review of her mammogram results.
Physicians Should Oversee Thorough Breast Cancer Screening, Particularly When Warning Signs Are Present
In the recent high profile case, the plaintiff, a mother of three, went in for medical help after discovering a marble-sized lump in her breast. Her doctor ordered a mammogram, but pursued no other testing. He apparently misread the results of the mammogram, and the woman endured a lengthy, vicious battle with cancer that likely would have been far less severe had her condition been discovered when she first sought medical attention.
Irregular lumps are a good indication to both you and your physician that further breast cancer testing should be conducted. But, there are many additional symptoms that can accompany the early stages of breast cancer. Swelling, skin changes, breast pain, inward turning of the nipple or a nipple discharge other than milk may be warning signs of breast cancer. Sometimes, however, breast cancer has no symptoms, which is why an annual mammogram and physical is so important for women over 40 or those at higher risk for the disease.
All breast cancer symptoms can be caused by less serious conditions, like an infection or a cyst, which can make diagnosis tricky. But, given the seriousness of breast cancer, when any warning signs are present, thorough follow-up testing should be conducted.
Most people are familiar with a mammogram, but what other kinds of testing should be used to either rule out or confirm breast cancer? A breast MRI can help doctors get a better understanding of breast lumps or abnormalities detected by mammography. A breast ultrasound shows whether a lump is solid or fluid-filled (fluid-filled lumps usually turn out to be cysts, not cancer).
A breast biopsy — or the removal of breast tissue to examine it for signs of cancer — may be performed in one of several ways, including through making small cuts in the breast, by needle aspiration or in a stereotactic procedure. These tests are only exploratory, and if cancer is indeed detected, a battery of other procedures will likely need to be performed to determine its severity and whether the cancer has spread to other body systems.
Odds of Survival Lower For Breast Cancer Detected At Late Stages
If it is not cured, breast cancer progresses through stages, from stage 0 (the least severe) to stage IV (the most severe), with the intermediate stages divided into substages. The five year survival rate for those whose breast cancer is detected immediately at stage 0 is approximately 99 percent. Just moving to stage I, in which the cancer has not spread and any tumor is two centimeters or less in size, decreases the five year survival rate to 92 percent.
Skip forward to stage IIB, where the tumor is still only between two and five centimeters and there are limited indications that the cancer may be spreading, and the five year survival rate plummets to 65 percent. At stage IV, the five year survival rate is just 14 percent.
There is always hope for anyone suffering from breast cancer; more and more women are winning the battle and surviving breast cancer. Yet, it is well established that breast cancer patients have higher odds of survival the earlier the cancer is detected. Doctors who overlook glaring test results, fail to recommend a complete and thorough battery of tests, or are otherwise responsible for a delayed diagnosis of cancer rob patients of the best chance at a full and long life.
Addressing Delayed Diagnosis Caused By Physician Oversight
Over the course of a lifetime, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. For some of them, a timely diagnosis is literally the difference between life and death. Even those women whose cancer is not detected early and ultimately survive are severely impacted by delayed diagnosis — they may have to endure seemingly endless, painful treatments that would not have been necessary otherwise, to say nothing of the undeniable mental anguish.
If your life has been impacted by a late diagnosis of breast cancer, whether you are a survivor, are still in the process of fighting the disease or have lost a family member, you may be entitled to compensation from a negligent physician. Contact a local medical malpractice attorney today to learn more about your right to recover monetary damages.