Cancer Diagnosis and Medical Malpractice

A scene we have all watched in any number of movies involves a patient sitting in their doctor’s office. The doctor in a white lab coat points to a radiology image and says “there is the tumor you have a cancer”. As the scene plays out the patient either runs from the room, or if they stay, they stop hearing the words being spoken by the doctor. Or, maybe it is that the patient hears the words, but they have no real understanding what they mean. In such scenes, the patient is maybe too afraid to ask questions. But then the camera focuses back on the doctor and we hear “we have to make a decision now, we need to do surgery, we can set it up for tomorrow”.

Unfortunately, such scenes mirror what happens in real life. But, the movies usually leave out a scene that sometimes follows. That is a scene where the patient contacts an attorney. Maybe they feel they were rushed into a surgery they didn’t need. Or, perhaps they think back to a year earlier when at their last visit to the doctor they left the office thinking they had a clean bill of health, and they are wondering if their cancer could have been and should have been caught sooner.

But, we are attorneys, not physicians or surgeons, why are we writing about this subject? The answer is simple, we frequently receive calls from people who turn to the legal profession in such situations.

Some call because they opted for surgery and then wonder if it was necessary. Some call because they remember that at their last annual physical a year or two earlier an X-ray, CT-scan or PET scan, was done and nobody called them. But now they get their records, and they find out that that early test or radiology study, if properly read and reviewed, shows the outline of a small undisclosed cancer tumor. They found out that when the tumor was tiny the cure rate was 90%. Now they are told the cure rate is only 30%. They are wondering if they are a victim of medical malpractice.

While we frequently field questions of this type, answers differ in every case. Sometimes a medical expert consultant will tell us “yes, this should have been caught and treated.” But, sometimes we will find out that for the particular type of cancer, early treatment would not have mattered. Sometimes the consultant will say “surgery was the only option.” Other times a consultant will review all of the films and records and say “radiation therapy to reduce the size of the tumor was the gold standard, and should have been offered before suggesting surgery.”

If you’re reading this blog post, and you have questions concerning yourself or a family member or friend who needs help, pick up the phone and call us. Though not every case is one where an attorney can help, and many situations involve medical judgments that do not amount to malpractice, we will listen to your story, and advise you how the law fits with the facts of your story.