Colon Cancer Medical Negligence Frequently Asked Questions for Delayed Diagnosis and Treatment
By: Stewart L. Cohen, Esq.
Nov 3, 2023
According to the American Cancer Society’s “Cancer Facts and Figures,” colorectal cancer is responsible for approximately 150,000 new cancer cases each year, making it the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Early diagnosis, before the onset of symptoms, has been shown to improve survival rates significantly. One method of reducing mortality from colorectal cancer is through the screening for fecal occult blood, as demonstrated in the Minnesota Colon Cancer Control Study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993 (N Engl J Med. 1993;328(19):1365–1371).  However, in cases of colon cancer medical negligence involving delayed diagnosis or treatment, many patients do not receive the benefit of early intervention.
Colon cancer patients and their families often seek our guidance regarding potential medical negligence in the diagnosis and treatment of colon cancer. We have compiled a list of common questions and general responses here. It’s important to note that each case is unique, and a comprehensive evaluation requires consultation with an experienced attorney and a thorough review of the individual’s medical records by a team of seasoned lawyers in collaboration with dedicated medical experts.
There are specific complaints and symptoms that patients may report to physicians, which are or should be, recognized as possible signs of colon cancer. While the presence of these complaints does not conclusively establish the presence of cancer, they should not be disregarded, downplayed, or overlooked by healthcare providers when reported. These complaints and symptoms may necessitate further testing, potentially leading to early diagnosis and treatment. Common complaints, symptoms, and risk factors encompass a family history of colon or rectal cancer, rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, changes in bowel habits (e.g., diarrhea or constipation), unexplained weakness or fatigue, unintended weight loss, a diagnosis of anemia, and prolonged abdominal cramps or pain.
Medical studies show that having colon cancer screening lowers the chance of dying from colon cancer. There are several different types of screening tests. Colon cancer screening is a way that doctors check the colon for potential signs of cancer or growths (polyps) that might become cancer. Screening is routinely done for patients without any complaints or risk factors that would indicate a suspicion of cancer. And, of course, if there are complaints or risk factors, the duty of the medical provider to recommend screening is very high. The purpose of colon screening is to find and remove polyps that may become cancerous. If left untreated, colon cancer can spread throughout the body (metastasis). Early testing and screening for colon cancer can result in early diagnosis, treatment, and improved results and quality of life.
Crucial Factors for Winning a Medical Negligence Case Involving Colon Cancer Misdiagnosis or Delayed Treatment
Several common elements are required to achieve a successful outcome in a medical negligence claim involving the delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis, or delayed treatment of colon cancer. These elements may vary depending on the jurisdiction but generally include the following:
- Duty of Care: The first element establishes that a duty of care exists between the physician and the patient. This duty arises when a doctor-patient relationship is formed, typically when the patient seeks medical treatment or consultation.
- Breach of Duty: The second element involves demonstrating that the physician breached the duty of care owed to the patient. This breach occurs when the physician fails to meet the standard of care expected of a reasonably competent medical professional in the same specialty under similar circumstances. In cases involving delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis, or delayed treatment of colon cancer, it is crucial to show that the physician’s actions or inactions deviated from the accepted standard of care.
- Causation: The third element requires establishing a causal link between the physician’s breach of duty and the harm suffered by the patient. It must be shown that the delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis, or delayed treatment directly caused or contributed to the patient’s worsened prognosis, harm, or damages. This often requires expert medical testimony to establish the connection between the physician’s negligence and the patient’s resulting injuries or damages.
- Damages: The fourth element involves demonstrating that the patient suffered actual damages because of the physician’s negligence. In cases involving colon cancer, these damages may include physical pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages, diminished quality of life, and other related damages. It is essential to gather and present evidence of the patient’s harm and losses to support the claim for damages.
- Timeliness: It is crucial to file the medical negligence claim within the applicable statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is a law that establishes timelines within which a lawsuit must be started, and they vary from state to state. The failure to start a lawsuit within a state’s statute of limitations may result in the claim being time-barred and the patient being unable to pursue legal recourse.
To achieve a successful outcome in a medical negligence claim involving the delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis, or treatment of colon cancer, it is essential to gather and present strong evidence, including medical records, expert opinions, and testimony from relevant witnesses.
Are there common fact patterns in successful medical negligence claims for delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosed colon cancer?
There are common fact patterns that have been successful in medical negligence claims involving delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis of colon cancer. While every case is unique, the following scenarios often arise in successful claims:
- Failure to Conduct Appropriate Screening: One typical fact pattern involves a physician’s failure to order or recommend appropriate screening tests for colon cancer. This may include a failure to perform a colonoscopy or recommend other diagnostic tests, mainly when the patient exhibits symptoms or has risk factors for colon cancer.
- Misinterpretation of Test Results: Another common scenario is the misinterpretation of test results, such as a radiologist failing to identify suspicious findings on imaging studies or a pathologist misreading biopsy results. This can lead to a delayed or incorrect diagnosis of colon cancer.
- Disregard of Patient Symptoms: Physicians may also be liable for medical negligence if they dismiss or disregard the patient’s symptoms suggestive of colon cancer. This includes complaints of persistent abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, changes in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, or other concerning symptoms that should trigger further investigation.
- Failure to Follow Up: A physician’s failure to follow up on abnormal test results or communicate them to the patient in a timely manner can also be a basis for a successful medical negligence claim. If a patient’s test results indicate the need for further evaluation or treatment, the physician must ensure appropriate follow-up occurs.
- Lack of Referral to Specialists: In some cases, a physician’s failure to refer a patient to a specialist, such as a gastroenterologist, for further evaluation or treatment can be considered medical negligence. If a primary care physician suspects or should reasonably suspect colon cancer, a referral to a specialist may be necessary for proper diagnosis and treatment.
- Failure to Communicate Test Results: Medical negligence claims may arise when healthcare providers fail to communicate test results to the patient in a timely manner. Suppose test results indicate the need for immediate treatment or further evaluation. In that case, it is the responsibility of the healthcare provider to ensure that the patient is promptly informed and appropriate action is taken.
- Inadequate Treatment Planning: Delayed treatment claims can also arise from inadequate treatment planning. This may involve a physician’s failure to develop and implement a timely and appropriate treatment plan once a diagnosis of colon cancer has been made. This can result in unnecessary delays in starting treatment, negatively impacting the patient’s prognosis.
If you believe you were the victim of medical malpractice, you must know your options and rights. Finding a good law office can make a massive difference to the outcome of your case. The law offices of Cohen, Placitella & Roth have many years of experience guiding clients through these options and fighting on their behalf. At CPR Law, we strive to make lasting impacts in our clients’ lives by seeking justice for them and by doing what’s right. Contact our team of lawyers at (888) 972-0072 to schedule your consultation today.