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Cancer is unfortunately a common medical condition that affects
many people in this country. It affects children, adolescents, and
adults. The types of cancer that affect each age group can vary
widely. Cancer itself can also be slow-growing, fast-growing, or
anything in between. Given the wide variety of cancers, the
patterns of growth, and the patient’s characteristics, it is
important for medical professionals to be aware of risk factors
for, and signs and symptoms of, cancers so that they can diagnose
them early, and treat them to minimize the chance that a person
will suffer from cancer.
Unfortunately, doctors and other healthcare professionals can
fail to recognize when a patient has cancer, despite signs and
symptoms of it. That can allow the cancer to grow without any
treatment, which can increase the risk of additional pain, the need
for more advanced treatment, and death. Healthcare providers may
also fail to offer appropriate cancer treatment after the
diagnosis, and this can lead to increased costs, significant pain,
and poorer outcomes. When a medical professional fails to
appropriately and timely diagnose cancer, or when a medical
professional fails to treat cancer appropriately, the patient may
have a medical malpractice claim.
What is cancer?
Everyone’s body is made up of millions of cells.
Generally, everyone’s cells function appropriately: they grow
normally, divide, die, and replenish as needed. Cancer starts when
something goes wrong in this process and your cells keep making new
cells, and the old or abnormal ones don’t die when they should.
As the cancer cells grow out of control, they can crowd out normal
cells. This makes it hard for your body to work the way it
There are two main types of cancers: hematologic (blood) cancer
and solid tumor cancers. A tumor is a lump or growth in the body.
Some tumors may be benign (not cancer) or may be malignant
(cancer). Although there are similarities, different cancers can
grow, spread, and respond to treatment differently.
Cancer is named for the part of the body where it started,
regardless of how it grows. Cancers affect nearly every body
- Head and Neck
- Digestive System
- Urinary System
- Reproductive System
- Endocrine System
- Bone and Soft Tissue
- Blood and Lymph System
Common cancers include breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate
cancer, colon and rectal cancer, melanoma, bladder cancer,
non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, kidney cancer, endometrial cancer,
leukemia, pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer, and liver cancer.
When should I worry that I may have cancer?
Given the different types of cancers that exist, there is
generally not one definitive sign or symptom that will make it
clear that a patient has cancer. However, certain signs or symptoms
may be suggestive of cancer, and should warrant further
investigation by a healthcare provider. Although there are many
signs and symptoms of cancer, common ones include:
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue) that does not improve with
- Weight loss or gain without any known reason
- Swelling or lumps anywhere in the body
- Pain that does not go away or gets worse
- Unusual bleeding or bruising for no reason
- Any new or unexplained change in your body habits
Certain patients are more at risk for developing cancer. For
those patients, it is especially important that healthcare
providers be aware of risk factors that may indicate that a
patient’s complaints could be cancer. Some risk factors
- Smoking history
- Family history
- Poor diet
- Excessive sun exposure
When a patient has symptoms that may suggest cancer, especially
when a patient has one or multiple risk factors, it is imperative
that the healthcare provider consider cancer and perform tests to
rule it in or out. Likewise, when a patient reports any major
changes in the way his or her body works or with new, unexplained
symptoms, the healthcare provider should always test for cancer as
a potential cause.
How is cancer diagnosed?
When cancer is suspected, a healthcare provider must perform
tests to assess it. There are different types of tests that can be
- Imaging studies (like a CT scan or MRI)
- Endoscopy procedures (where a tube-like instrument is inserted
into the body to look inside)
- Biopsy (where a small portion of a potential cancer is removed
from the body and evaluated under the microscope to see if it is
- Cytology (where a single or a small number of cells is removed
from the body and evaluated under the microscope to see if it is
Once cancer is identified, additional tests (such as a PET scan)
are done to see how big the cancer is, and whether it has spread
from where it started. The size of the cancer and its spread within
the body will determine the cancer’s stage. Cancer staging
varies from Stage 0 to 4. A lower stage (stage 1 or 2) means that
the cancer has not spread widely in the body. A higher number
(stage 3 or 4) means that the cancer has spread more in the body.
When cancer has spread to a new part of the body, that is called
It is always important for the healthcare provider to follow-up
with a patient to report the results of any of these studies. Too
often, a healthcare provider receives the results of a test to
evaluate a patient’s potential cancer, like an imaging study
or a biopsy, yet fails to report the findings to the patient. In
that case, the patient may never know of the cancer, and that can
cause a delay in treatment. In that situation, which is known as a
delayed diagnosis of cancer, the patient may have more treatment
costs, decreased effectiveness of any potential cancer treatments,
and increased pain and suffering.
How is cancer treated?
There are many treatments available that may have a high rate of
success in treating cancer. This will depend on the type and stage
of the cancer at diagnosis. Healthcare providers should be able to
provide you with a variety of treatment options, but it is always
important to explore your options. Some types of cancer treatments
- Radiation Therapy
- Targeted Therapy (a type of therapy where drugs or other
substances are used to attack certain types of cancer cells with
- Stem Cell or Bone Marrow Transplant
- Hormone Therapy
Thankfully, when caught early, there is a higher chance of
success in treating cancer. It is for that very reason that it is
important that a healthcare provider recognize the potential for
cancer, test for it quickly, diagnose it, and initiate prompt
Even when cancer is diagnosed, it is important that the
healthcare team institute timely and appropriate cancer treatment.
A healthcare provider’s failure to catch cancer early and
start treatment can lead to poor outcomes, including death.
Unfortunately, sometimes the healthcare team unnecessarily delays
cancer treatment. Or, the team recommends unnecessary medications
or surgery that fails to treat the cancer, allowing it to grow and
spread. For this reason, it is important for a patient to confirm
that he or she is receiving the appropriate care. If a
patient’s cancer worsens, and if the cancer care was
inappropriate, there may be a medical malpractice claim.
How can a lawyer help me if I was diagnosed with
When you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, it is normal
to be overwhelmed with emotions. You and your loved one likely have
many questions about why you developed cancer, whether and how it
will be treated, and whether the recommended treatment is the best
option for your specific type of cancer. You may also be asking
whether the cancer could have been caught earlier and, had it been
diagnosed sooner, whether treatment would have been more effective.
Often, doctors and other healthcare providers may be unwilling to
answer these questions, leaving you even more confused and
Hiring an attorney who has experience in dealing with cases in
which patients suffered from a delayed diagnosis with cancer can be
extremely important to find the answers you deserve. An experienced
medical malpractice attorney knows what questions to ask, what
experts to contact, and what investigation is needed to hold
healthcare providers who failed to diagnose your or your loved
one’s cancer in a timely manner responsible. Having an
attorney advocate for you will also increase your likelihood of
obtaining the compensation you deserve for the unnecessary pain and
suffering you and your family has to endure, and for medical
expenses, lost wages, and other costs associated with your cancer
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.