Family practice providers do not notice missing mammogram report for two years, woman dies of breast cancer
Painter Law Firm's medical malpractice lawyers handle delayed cancer diagnosis and treatment cases
Many clients have hired me, as a Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer, to investigate and handle lawsuits against their doctors for not following up on test results.
To me, this is one of the saddest types of medical malpractice because the information that would have likely led to timely, successful treatment was available, but ignored. As a patient, it makes one think what is the value of tests and laboratory or radiology workups if the results are not reviewed and acted upon.
One of the routine tests in women is the mammogram, which is an x-ray radiology screening to look for breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends the following general mammogram schedule for most women:
Ages 40-44: Get an annual mammogram if you wish to do so.
Ages 45-54: Get a mammogram every year.
Ages 55+: Get a mammogram every two years, or continue yearly screening if preferred.
Of course, there are some additional special considerations. Women should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast changes to their doctor immediately. In addition, women with a higher risk of breast cancer because of family history, genetics, or other factors, may need to be screened with an MRI instead of just a mammogram.
Primary care doctor ignores mammogram results
A real Texas medical malpractice case gives a tragic example of what can happen when a primary care physician does not pay attention to mammogram results.
A woman in her mid-50s saw her family practice doctor for a check-up because she had been having one week of pain in her left arm, chest, and back. During the physical exam, the physician felt a moveable mass on the patient’s lower left breast and ordered a mammogram.
The mammogram was done the next month. The radiologist documented micro-calcifications in the central part of the left breast. The radiology report recommended either stereotactic or excisional biopsy to examine the micro-calcifications. The radiologist instructed his staff to fax the report to both the family practice doctor and the patient, but neither of them apparently received it.
The family practice doctor and her staff did not follow-up on the missing mammogram report. The patient presumed that the results were normal.
Around a year and one-half later, this lady went to an emergency room with severe pain in her chest and right arm pit. The ER doctor ordered a chest x-ray, which showed, among other findings, linear fibrosis in the left lung base. The patient was given medications, discharged, and told to follow-up with her primary care doctor.
The patient followed-up with a different family practice physician within two weeks. This doctor ordered another mammogram, which showed more abnormal growths when compared to the original mammogram from two years earlier.
About a month later, the patient returned to her original family practice physician because she had detected a painful left breast mass when doing a self-exam. An ultrasound of both breasts and axillary (armpit) areas showed malignant breast cancer and several suspicious lymph nodes.
The patient was referred to an oncologist who took her to surgery for a radical mastectomy because of a left breast invasive carcinoma. After surgery, a pathologist examined tissue samples and found extensive lymphatic vessel invasion of the medial portion of the left breast. In other words, the cancer had metastasized and spread. The patient began anti-hormonal therapy and chemotherapy to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Just four months later, this lady had to go to surgery for an excisional biopsy of the left chest wall at the mastectomy site due because of pathology reports of an infiltrating carcinoma of the left breast after the mastectomy.
Unfortunately, the negligent family practice doctor did not have policies and procedures in place at her office to make sure that they received the mammogram and other test results. As a result, when the results did not come in, no one from the office followed-up, the doctor never saw the mammogram report, and there was a two-year delay in diagnosis and treatment.
What you can do
I recommend that patients always ask for a copy of test results and reports to review, so they can review them on their own and ask appropriate questions. Sometimes they are not immediately available, as was the case in this mammogram test. Even though the standard of care places the responsibility of physicians and healthcare providers to communicate test results to you, I think it is a good idea for patients to follow up with the doctor’s office until the results are in and they are provided with a copy of the report.
We are here to help
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by a medical malpractice, call Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, at 281-580-8800, for a free consultation about your potential case.
Robert Painter is an attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, doctors, surgeons, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers. In 2017, H Texas magazine recognized him as one of Houston’s top lawyers. That same year, the Better Business Bureau recognized Painter Law Firm with its Award of Distinction.
Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.
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