Oncologists are physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatments of cancer. Oncology is a broad field with three major subsets.
The first is medical oncology, where cancer is treated by an oncologist using chemotherapy, as well as other medications including targeted therapy or immunotherapy.
The second is surgical oncology where biopsies are performed and cancerous tumors and surrounding tissues are removed by a surgical oncologist. Lastly is radiation oncology, where cancer is treated by radiation therapy.
Oncology can also be further divided into gynecologic oncology, where the oncologist specializes in gynecologic cancers like uterine, ovarian, and cervical cancers as well as pediatric oncology where an oncologist specializes in the treatment of cancers commonly found in children. These types of cancers include brain tumors, leukemia, osteosarcoma, and Ewing's sarcoma. Additionally, hematologist-oncologists diagnose and treat cancers of the blood, including leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma.
Miller & Zois is one of Maryland's leading medical malpractice law firms (our lawyers' opinion: THE leading and best) and we have a great deal of knowledge and experience with medical negligence claims involving all types of oncologists.
Oncologists are not sued for medical malpractice nearly as often as other types of doctors. But they do get sued regularly. When oncologists are involved in malpractice litigation, the allegations against them usually involve some type of negligent treatment decision or diagnostic failure. This page will examine the practice of oncology and the types of medical malpractice claims these doctors usually face.
Malpractice claims against oncologist have to be approached carefully by plaintiffs' malpractice attorneys. There is no question that an oncologist is using treating someone very sick and is trying to do everything possible to help that sick patient. But victims' lawyers have to be able to carefully articulate to a jury - if the case does not settle out-of-court - that trying to help someone by giving them life-saving treatment is not a license to do additional harmOncologists Education
Like any medical doctor, oncologists first have to obtain a medical degree that generally takes four years to complete after a four-year college degree. After graduating medical school, most oncologists complete an internal medicine residency which usually takes around three to four years to finish followed by an oncology fellowship. For surgical oncologists, a five-year general surgery residency is required followed by a three-year oncology fellowship. Pediatric oncologists are required to complete a pediatric residency upon graduation from medical school followed by a pediatric oncology fellowship. Lastly, gynecological oncologists must complete an OB/GYN residency which is then followed by an oncology fellowship.
After completion of residency and fellowship, some oncologists choose to specialize even further in subspecialties but are not required to do so. The major requirement, however, is that all oncologists must complete an oncology fellowship, which last for no less than two years, before they can specialize in anything further. Additionally, like all physicians who treat patients in the U.S., an oncologist must obtain a license to practice medicine.
While board certification is not required for all physicians, specialized oncologists must pass board examinations within that specialty prior to being able to practice. Depending on what the specialty is, the testing and certification may be provided by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, American Board of Internal Medicine, American Board of Pediatrics, American Board of Radiology, or the American Board of Surgery.
Oncologists help people fight against cancer. An oncologist is responsible for prescribing a cancer treatment plan and monitoring a patient's response. A typical oncologist will be primarily responsible for a cancer patient's care from diagnosis to remission. Oncologists are not always on the front lines when it comes to the initial diagnosis of cancer. Instead, patients are often referred to an oncologist once a cancer diagnosis has been confirmed or is at least presumed. In some situations, however, oncologists are directly involved in the diagnosis and assessment/staging of a cancer diagnosis.
Oncologists must have a deep understanding of the signs and symptoms common to all forms of cancer and how they affect the body in order to decide what test are necessary to make accurate diagnoses and know how to read a broad array of test results such as MRI's, CAT scans, biopsies, and ultrasounds. Oncologists also have to be trained in order to prescribe the right kind of cancer treatment as well as to provide ongoing care during and after the treatment of cancer.
Usually, an oncologist will first meet with a patient when they are showing signs and symptoms of cancer and tests will be performed. If cancer is indicated, the oncologist must then determine the type of cancer and what stage it is at. Cancers are usually staged from zero to four, with four being the most aggressive. The cancer stage can in many cases determines what treatment is appropriate.
When cancer is detected in a patient, the oncologist must determine the area of the body it is located, if it has spread or not, as well as other areas of the body that may have been effected by the cancer or that may become affected. Then, the oncologist must determine which treatment is best for the patient that may be, among many others, chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation therapy. Additionally, oncologists are responsible for quality of life issues, such as managing the patient's pain through medication as well as treating side effects the patient may experience.
Oncology is a comparatively low risk specialty. The primary reason for this is that oncologists are not on the front lines when it comes to the initial diagnosis of cancer. Instead, they get involved after the cancer has been diagnosed.
This means that oncologists have low exposure to failure to diagnose malpractice claims. While malpractice is less common in oncology than other fields, it still happens and can be devastating for the patient and their family.
Oncology is a very broad field, so the types of medical malpractice claims against oncologists also tend to be broad and diverse in nature.
Generally speaking, an oncologist commits medical malpractice when they fail to meet the standards of acceptable practice within their field. For a medical oncologist, this could include missing signs and symptoms of cancer the oncologist should have detected as well as misdiagnoses and improper treatment decisions. For a surgical oncologist, medical malpractice could additionally include errors before, during, or after a surgery (surgical error) that could result in malpractice.
Our medical negligence lawyers see many radiation oncology malpractice lawsuits. These are typically lawsuits against radiologists for missing cancer on a CT scan or mammogram.
The average settlement value for a medical malpractice lawsuit in the U.S. is somewhere between $300,000 to $380,000. Oncologist malpractice cases are typically worth about 20-30% less. The average radiation oncology compensation payout by settlement or trial is approximately $275,000.
Oncology malpractice cases tend to have a lower average value than other types of malpractice cases. The main reason for this is that oncologists often treat patients who already very sick with cancer and have a lower life expectancy than healthy patients.
Oncology is a very broad field, so the types of medical malpractice claims against oncologists also tend to be broad and diverse in nature. Oncology is a comparatively low risk specialty. While malpractice is less common in oncology than other fields, it still happens and can be devastating for the patient and their family.
Generally speaking, an oncologist commits medical malpractice when they fail to meet the standards of acceptable practice within their field. For a medical oncologist, this could include missing signs and symptoms of cancer the oncologist should have detected as well as misdiagnoses and improper treatment decisions.
For a surgical oncologist, medical malpractice could be committed in the same way as a medical oncologist, but could additionally include errors before, during, or after a surgery (surgical error) that could result in malpractice. Such errors could include surgical mistakes, failing to detect pre-existing conditions that might make surgery more dangerous, and failing to detect postoperative complications.
Potentially the worst malpractice a patient may suffer, however, is either a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis where the cancer goes undetected and by the time it is, it is no longer treatable.
Just because an oncologist makes a mistake does not necessarily mean he or she is liable for medical malpractice. Some mistakes are reasonable while others or not. If the oncologist failed to provide the patient acceptable care, however, they very well may be liable.Oncologist Verdicts and Settlements
Summarized below are recent verdicts and reported settlements from medical malpractice cases involving oncologists. These case descriptions are provided for informational purposes only.
- Kali v. Young (California 2018) $105.3 million: A young woman is diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in 2007. Defendant oncologist recommends an alternative treatment he has been working on developing rather than chemotherapy or surgery and she follows his advice. In 2013, she is diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic and terminal breast cancer with three to four years left to live. She brings this medical malpractice action against the defendant alleging negligence in advising her to forego traditional treatment methods as well as misrepresentation claims. The defendant denies any liability and the parties do not settle. Rather, they go to trial where the plaintiff receives a jury verdict of $105,356,000 including damages for lost wages, medical expenses, general damages, loss of earning capacity, punitive damages, and compensatory damages.
- Pinto v. Kehoe (New York 2017) $15 million: A woman suspects she may have breast cancer and comes under the care of the defendant, a surgical breast oncologist. She undergoes a regular mammogram in order to determine whether or not she has breast cancer, and the defendant reviews her films himself, rather than having a radiologist do so, and tells her the results are normal and benign. Unfortunately, the defendant was wrong is his interpretations of the films causing the woman's cancer to go undetected. The tumor is nearly 8.5 centimeters big when it is discovered. She brings this medical malpractice action against the defendant alleging he was negligent in acting as a radiologist and departed from accepted practice in failing to detect and diagnose her cancer when she had the mammogram done. At trial the jury determines the defendant was in fact at fault and returns a verdict to the plaintiff for $15 million.
- Rogers v. Mathey (Washington 2016) $12 million: A 22-year-old woman sees her primary care physician for pain in her leg. An MRI is performed and a mass is discovered in her right leg. Further tests reveal that she has Ewing's sarcoma, a type of bone cancer. She then sees an oncologist, who unknown to her has never treated Ewing's sarcoma. Over the next 11 months the oncologist prescribes her double the approved amount of chemotherapy during each treatment. The particular drug he uses is doxorubicin which is known to greatly increase the risks of heart failure when given is high doses. After the plaintiff's treatment is completed, she is diagnosed with doxorubicin induced heart failure. She sustains irreparable heart damage and will likely need a heart-transplant one day. She sues the oncologist for negligently overprescribing her the medication that led to her heart failure when the risks were known and in failing to disclose to her he had never treated the condition before or that he was giving her double the known, safe dosage. There is no question that her heart failure was a result of the oncologist actions and as a result, the parties settle for $12 million.
- Teeuwen v. Birk (Virginia 2016) $1.4 million: A man is suffering from a runny nose, continuing cough, and congestion. He goes to see the defendant oncologist to have chest x-ray done, and a lesion on his lung, suspicious for cancer, goes undetected. 13 months later he dies from metastatic Stage IV lung cancer. A wrongful death action was brought on behalf of him by his estate claiming that the defendant should have detected the lesion and performed further test so that a diagnosis could have been made and treatment rendered. The defendant denied any liability and the case went to trial where experts testified the lesion should have been identified by the defendant and had, the cancer may have been treatable. The jury then returned a verdict for the plaintiff in the sum of $1,468,149 million.
Woman in Prince George's County sues surgical oncologist and radiologist for negligent failure to diagnose breast cancer.Wrong Chemotherapy Lawsuit
Several oncologists are sued after woman receives wrong type of chemotherapy treatment for several years due to misdiagnosis of her cancer.Herapin Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Oncologist is among group of doctors at Johns Hopkins sued for wrongful death after cancer patient bleeds to death during surgical procedure.Delayed Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Medical oncologist is among group of treating doctors sued for delay in diagnosis breast cancer resulting in progression from Stage I to III.Other Oncologist Malpractice Topics Cancer Misdiagnosis Claims
Oncologists are frequently involved in malpractice cases based on delays or failures to diagnose cancer. The types of cancer that are most commonly misdiagnosed are:
If you have a potential medical malpractice claim against an oncologist, Miller & Zois can help. Call us today at 800-553-8082 or contact us online.