Like so many other types of medical malpractice matters, the situations faced by cancer malpractice victims are tragic. Sometimes forms of cancer could be treated and cured when found early. A delay in diagnosis and proper treatment can lead to a long, painful course of surgical, radiation, and chemotherapy treatment or even worse, and untimely death.
Oncologists are physicians with specialized training in handling cancer patients. Medical oncologists treat cancer with chemotherapy and other medications, while surgical oncologists perform surgical procedures to resect or remove cancerous tumors.
The general types of oncology medical malpractice damages and injuries
According to an analysis of the most recent data set of closed medical malpractice claims, the high stakes of oncology malpractice are immediately visible:
• 50% of claims involve the death of a cancer patient.
• 27% of claims deal with metastasis or spreading of the cancer into the lymph nodes or locations distant from the original or primary tumor.
• 10% of claims include damage to vital organs of the body.
The most common oncology medical malpractice claims
The five most common types of cancer/oncology claims and lawsuits include these allegations:
• 29% involve diagnostic errors by a physician. These can include the failure to diagnose cancer, a delay in diagnosing cancer, or making an incorrect diagnosis.
• 24% of claims and lawsuits allege that a medical or surgical oncologist improperly managed cancer treatment.
• 15% of cancer claims or lawsuits contend that a medical oncologist did not manage the potent cancer-treating medications properly.
• 4% of the cases involve a physician order for the wrong dose of the medication.
• 3% of the claims deal with a claim that the medical or surgical oncologist ordered the wrong treatment or surgical procedure.
Diagnostic errors top the list of cancer-related medical malpractice claims.
Closed claims data reflect that three specific types of cancer are most commonly the subject of diagnostic error claims:
• Secondary malignancy of the bone (14%)
• Malignant neoplasm of the breast (7%)
• Secondary malignant neoplasm of liver (7%)
The claims study reflected that patients may minimize their risk for diagnostic errors by oncologists by faithfully attending their medical appointments and following medication and treatment plans. In my experience as a Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer, this is good advice for patients seeing any type of physician or healthcare provider.
Another factor that commonly causes diagnostic malpractice is a breakdown in communication among different healthcare providers or offices.
For example, a primary care doctor may order a diagnostic radiology scan that’s performed off-site at a hospital or freestanding imaging facility. The radiologist finds a concerning area in the images and addresses it in a report with recommendations for additional diagnostic workup. The radiology report gets sent back to the doctor’s office and filed away, without anyone notifying the patient. The error isn’t discovered until months or years later upon the patient’s next appointment. By then, what was once a small area of concern has dramatically expanded.
The standard of care requires radiologists and imaging personnel, as well as ordering physicians and their staffs, to follow up on studies and promptly communicate critical test results with each other and the patient.
Patients can improve their own safety by following up on test results as well. If your doctor or mid-level provider (physician assistant or nurse practitioner) felt it was important enough to order a radiology test, then it’s a good idea if for the patient to follow up and request a copy of the report.
Surgical and pathology errors
When a cancer patient is taken to surgery, the general goal is clear: Surgically resect or cut out all of the visible cancer with clean margins around it to also remove any microscopic cancer. This is the only way to prevent cancer from spreading.
Once the tumor and surrounding margin of healthy tissue are removed, standard of care requires it to be sent to the pathology lab for microscopic examination by a specialized physician called a pathologist. It’s a pathologist role to identify the type of cancer and its stage, and to determine whether there are clean margins. This information is communicated back to the surgical oncologist in the form of a pathology report, which helps inform any necessary follow-up care.
Here at Painter Law Firm, we’ve handled a number of cases involving surgical and pathology errors.
We recently handled a case against a colorectal surgeon who stopped short when resecting a colon tumor without obtaining appropriate margins. This was verified in the pathology report, but the surgeon did not take the patient back to the operating room for an additional resection procedure. As a result, this young wife and mother died when her cancer returned, despite aggressive chemo and radiation therapy.
The best odds for successfully treating many types of cancer come with full surgical resection of tumors with clean margins.
If you’ve been seriously injured because of cancer misdiagnosis or poor medical or surgical treatment in Texas, then contact a top-rated experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for complimentary evaluation of your potential case.