Today, scientific and medical advances have made many types of cancer treatable, provided that they are detected early enough. On the other hand, a cancer misdiagnosis can be a death sentence. While it takes a highly skilled medical professional to diagnose and treat this disease, you should be aware of the warning signs of cancer.
General Signs and Symptoms of Cancer
Cancer is not a single disease, but rather a group of more than 100 diseases in which cells divide abnormally and grow out of control, damaging other cells, as well as organs, bone, tissue, and body systems. As such, cancer can cause a wide range of signs and symptoms, depending on the type of cancer, the location in the body, the size, and the degree to which it affects organs or tissue.
At times, cancer may not show any signs until it has grown quite large or metastasizes (spreads to other parts of the body). According to the American Cancer Society, however, some general signs and symptoms of cancer include:
Unexplained weight loss — Losing weight for no known reason (e.g. diet, exercise), particularly an unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more, may be an early sign of cancer. Unexplained weight loss is often associated with cancers of the pancreas, stomach, esophagus, or lung.
Fever — While fever is common in cancer patients, especially if the immune system is impacted, fever typically occurs after the cancer has metastasized. Fever may also be an early sign of certain blood cancers, such as leukemia or lymphoma.
Fatigue — Extreme tiredness that does not abate with rest may occur as the cancer grows or in cancers that cause undetected blood loss.
Pain — Although pain may be an early sign of certain cancers (e.g. bone, colon, rectum, ovary) pain is more likely to occur when the cancer has metastasized.
Skin changes — Skin cancer can cause visible changes to the skin, however, signs of other types of cancer include darker looking skin, jaundice, redness, itching and excessive hair growth.
Additionally, other signs and symptoms may be a warning of certain types of cancer. Changes in bowel habits, for example, such a long-term constipation or diarrhea, may be a sign of colon cancer. Similarly, changes in bladder function, such as urinating more or less frequently or blood in the urine, may be a sign of bladder or prostate cancer. A persistent, lingering cough may be a sign of lung cancer, while a lump that appears under the skin could be a sign of cancer of the breast or lymph nodes.
For many types of cancer, treatment is more likely to be effective if the disease is diagnosed in its earliest stages through diagnostic tools such as biopsies, mammograms, x-rays, CT Scans, colonoscopies, and blood tests. Ultimately, a doctor or other medical professional that fails to order such tests may be held liable for medical malpractice due to a cancer misdiagnosis.
What are the causes of cancer misdiagnosis
Despite the diagnostic tools available to detect cancer, a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
- A physician fails to take patients’ complaints seriously
- A doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professionals fails to grasp the significance of patients’ symptoms
- Failing to order diagnostic tests
- Failing to follow-up with testing, treatment, or care
- Overlooking a cancerous lesion during an examination or biopsy
- Blood samples and tissue specimens being mishandled, mislabeled, misinterpreted, or contaminated
- Misdiagnosing a malignant mass as benign
- Misclassifying the aggressiveness of a tumor
In addition to a cancer misdiagnosis, patients can also be harmed if the doctor fails to properly treat the cancer. As there are so many different types of cancer, there are also several forms of treatment. If a doctor prescribes the wrong treatment, the patient may suffer severe injuries or wrongful death.
There is a difference between incorrect treatment for cancer and a poor outcome, however. Despite the doctor’s best efforts, the patient’s cancer may not respond to treatment. On the other hand, medical malpractice arising from the mistreatment of cancer may occur if the cancer was misdiagnosed, resulting in an incorrect treatment plan.
Finally, a doctor may fail to perform surgery, prescribe unnecessary treatments or make a mistake in the prescription or administration of medication. In any event, a cancer misdiagnosis or improper treatment of cancer can be life threatening.
There are a number of ways that cancer can be misdiagnosed or improperly treated. As previously mentioned, early detection and treatment of cancer can increase the likelihood of a patient’s survival. If a patient is harmed because of a cancer misdiagnosis or failure to treat the cancer, there may be a legal basis for a medical malpractice claim against the doctor and other medical providers.