Colon cancer is the second most diagnosed cancer, and second leading cause of cancer death in the US (Center for Disease Control, 2011). The risk of colon cancer increases with age and family history. Diagnosis of colon cancer is usually by colonoscopy, and screening is recommended for adults 50 years of age and older.
There are approximately 140,000 new cases of colon/rectal cancer each year in this country. Colon cancer causes to 49,380 deaths (National Cancer Institute) a year. Sure, studies like this are a little dry and hard to get your mind around. But if you think about those statistics for just a second, it is incredible.
Things are improving but just not quickly enough. There has been a 30% drop in colorectal cancer incidence rates in adults 50 and older in the last ten years. This is in large part from doctors and patients doing a better job with increased colonoscopy screening. The ambitious goal is to get to 80% by 2018.
Misdiagnosis of colon cancer is the 5th most commonly misdiagnosed disease following myocardial infarction, breast cancer, appendicitis, and lung cancer. That does not mean that every colon cancer case, where symptoms and problems consistent with colon cancer are missed by a doctor, is a medical malpractice lawsuit in the making. But it does underscore that too many colon cancer deaths every year are the result of mistakes that doctors make in interpreting a patient’s symptoms of colon cancer and in the negligent treatment of cancer after diagnosed. If you believe you may have a claim because a doctor failed to diagnose properly colon cancer, call 800-553-8082, or get a free on-line consultation.Diagnosis/Misdiagnosis of Colon Cancer
The patient's prognosis in colon cancer cases depends largely on early diagnosis and treatment. When detected early, colon cancer is very treatable and most amenable to cure. However, if the cancer is detected at an advanced stage and has metastasized outside of the colon, the patient's risk dying increase exponentially.
Because early detection and diagnosis of colon cancer is essential in halting the progression and improving the prognosis of the disease, the accepted standard requires an internal medicine physician to perform colon cancer screening, in the form of a yearly digital rectal exams, yearly fecal occult blood testing, and barium enema with sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy, for people over 50.
Misdiagnosis (under-diagnosis/over-diagnosis) of colorectal cancer is related to physician, patient, and diagnostic tests (laboratory and histopathology). Early stages of colorectal cancer may not present with overt symptoms and, as a result, many cases are tragically misdiagnosed. Often, the symptoms are reasonably missed. In these cases, the symptoms exhibited only fit the colon cancer symptoms mosaic with the benefit of hindsight. But there are also many instances where colon cancer is missed because of medical malpractice.Symptoms and Testing for Colon Cancer
Symptoms, when they occur, may include bleeding from the rectum, changes in stool consistency (e.g. intermittent diarrhea or constipation), weight loss, and pain in the abdomen or rectum. Symptoms of colon cancer are often similar to other intestinal disorders, and may be misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome or diverticulitis.
Though colonoscopies are the "gold standard" for colon cancer screening, they have an estimated "miss rate" of 22-27%. Incomplete bowel clean out and inspection times can affect detection rates. Further, some lesions are difficult to visualize with colonoscopy and can go undetected.
Due to the embarrassing symptoms, some women and men will not seek medical advice, or will try to self-diagnose. In other cases, doctors may not ask the patient about their symptoms. Physicians may also not order correct laboratory or histopathology tests to determine the presence of colon cancer, or may not order a colonoscopy. Errors may also occur with equipment, mislabelling of slides, or misinterpretation of laboratory results or histopathology slides. In one study, it was reported that 1.4% of histopathological slides are not accurately read. Furthermore, appropriate follow up on abnormal laboratory results are not re-evaluated.
It should be noted that not every case involving a delayed diagnosis is malpractice. To have a case, you must also be able to prove that the outcome would have been different if the negligence had not occurred. The answer to this question depends on the stage of cancer, the kind of cancer, how early it could have been discovered, and the probable success of treatment.
It is imperative - an overused word, but it applies here - that patients with concerns seek medical advice and openly discuss symptoms they may have. Second opinions should be sought if there is uncertainty in the diagnosis as early detection provides the best chances for a positive outcome.Colon Cancer Verdicts and Settlements
- 2015 Massachusetts: $3.6 million for the family of a 45-year-old woman who presents to her primary care doctor with abdominal pain after eating and smaller bowel movements. He diagnoses the plaintiff with an ulcer. She returns a month later with complaints of loose bowel movements. In spite of a family history of colon cancer, the doctor simply increases the acid-reducting medication he had prescribed. She returns yet again a month later this time complaining of constipation. She is sent home again and comes back one more time another month later. Eventually, he referred her to another physician who did the colonoscopy that should have been done months ago that found Stage IV colon cancer that had metastasized to her ovaries. She died and her family filed suit. The doctor denied negligence but made an even more persuasive argument: an earlier diagnosis would not have altered her outcome. But, clearly, the jury did not buy it.
- 2014 New Jersey: $1.5 million for a 54-year-old woman whose family contended in a wrongful death lawsuit that the Defendant, a gastroenterologist, negligently failed to visualize the cecum during a colonoscopy that would have detected her cancer.
- 2014 Massachusetts: $1.9 million for a very atypical colon cancer misdiagnosis case. A 39-year-old carpenter was seen by the Defendant, a hematology oncologist, for an immunodeficiency condition that mimics cancer in the lung. Still, a lung biopsy was done and sent to a hematopathologist. The Defendant knew the man was being treated for this problem that looks like cancer, but there was a failure in communication, and they guy ended up getting an infection while getting treated for cancer and died.
- 2013 New York: $950,000 wrongful death verdict against an internist who misdiagnosed colon cancer for four years as gastritis, leading to stage-IV cancer in a 63-year-old Brooklyn man. The defense made the only argument it could under the circumstances: an earlier diagnosis would not have not have averted his death.
- 2013 Massachusetts: $2.4 million for the death of a 56-year-old woman who was treated for abdominal pain for four years without any colon cancer screenings. There was some evidence that a cause of the failure to screen was the physician's belief that she did not have medical insurance to pay for preventative screenings.
- 2012 Maryland: $600,000 settlement for a 63-year-old woman who sued a gastroenterologist for failing to diagnose a mass in her colon during a colonoscopy. The woman survived but sued for the delay in diagnosis and her decreased life expectancy.
- 2012 Pennsylvania: $3 million verdict against a radiologist for failure to note an irregularity on a CT scan which leads to a 22-month delay in treatment and a decreased chance of ultimate success.
- 2010 Massachusetts: $1.6 million wrongful death settlement for failing to diagnose timely and treat the anastomotic leak which resulted in the decedent's untimely death. The defendants each denied the allegations of negligence
- 2010 Michigan: $600,000 settlement in negligent follow-up after colon cancer. The man had an undiagnosed anastomotic leak after colon cancer surgery to remove a mass. The patient's doctor did not recognize and treat a leak despite multiple office visits.
- 2010 Massachusetts: $7.5 million in a delay in diagnosis case that resulted in a man's death after metastasis to the peritoneum and lymph nodes.
- 2010 Virginia: $400,000 settlement in a delay in diagnosis case.
Keep in mind this is a cherry picked list. We stepped over many defense verdicts to provide these verdicts and settlements.
You can learn a great deal about the value of these claims by reviewing a lot of jury verdicts. But determining the settlement value of your case? You really can't do that here. There are just too many factors at play.Finding a Lawyer to Investigate Your Potential Claim for a Lawsuit or Settlement
If you live in the Baltimore-Washington area and believe you or a relative have been a victim of medical negligence in the diagnosis or treatment of colon cancer in Maryland, call 800-553-8082 or get a free online medical malpractice consultation.
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