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The Tragedy of Cancer Misdiagnosis

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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When someone receives a  diagnosis of cancer it can feel like their heart drops to the pit of their stomach.  Unless someone has been through it themselves, it is difficult to comprehend the swell of emotions a person feels in the first few days; terror, anger, sadness – just to name a few.

But what if cancer is misdiagnosed, diagnosed late in its progression, or not diagnosed at all.

When this occurs, patients who could have made a full recovery can die, or are required to endure more invasive treatment that they would otherwise have had to undergo to beat the disease.

What are the options for patients or their families whose lives are cut short or dramatically affected by a misdiagnosis of cancer?  Can they receive compensation for the negligence of the health professional responsible? And why does misdiagnosis occur in the first place?

Cases of cancer misdiagnosis

  • A 22-year-old woman from Colchester died last month after doctors mistook her cancer for pregnancy.  The tumour, known as adenocarcinoma, produced pregnancy hormones, but by the time it was correctly diagnosed it was too late, and the patient died three weeks later.
  • A 28-year-old woman was told by a dermatologist that she had skin cancer when in fact she was suffering from a treatable STI, something that was revealed by a full body scan conducted six months after the misdiagnosis.
  • The widow of a man whose doctor had failed to spot he had bowel cancer was awarded £50,000 in 2014 after a judge ruled that the GP responsible for making the diagnosis provided “sub-standard” care.

Cancer Misdiagnosis: Why Does It Happen?

As many as one in four cancers in the UK are misdiagnosed.  There are a number of reasons for this including:

  • Cancer symptoms can often be the same as a variety of other illnesses that are far less serious.  A majority of lumps in the breast for example turn out to be harmless, non-malignant cysts. 
  • Pressured pathology departments mean that results can be misread
  • Budget cuts may mean some GPs delay referring patients for further scans and tests.
  • GPs are allocated a very short amount of time with each patient, which can lead to incomplete and incorrect diagnosis.

When is cancer misdiagnosis negligence?

To prove an NHS Trust and/or a GP was negligent in diagnosing your cancer, you will have to prove that:

  • a duty of care was owed
  • the duty was breached
  • the breach of duty caused you harm

What does this mean?

Medical professionals owe patients a duty of care as a matter of course.  To establish whether or not the duty of care was breached, the Court will examine whether the doctor’s or department’s actions met the standard of other health practitioners faced with the same set of circumstances.

The Judge would then need to see that the misdiagnosis caused damage to you that would otherwise not have  occurred.  Examples of this could include:

  • your quality of life was reduced (due to more invasive treatment for example)
  • your life expectancy has been shortened
  • you need extensive time off work and will suffer financial loss
  • the misdiagnosis has caused you stress and anxiety

Your solicitor will assist you in building a strong case by gathering expert medical opinions and the facts of your case and presenting them to the Court. 

In Summary

Due to the pressure on GPs and the NHS as a whole, instances of cancer misdiagnosis are all too common in the UK.  If negligence can be established, victims can make a claim for compensation to help them rebuild their lives or provide for family after they have died.

At IBB, our personal injury team, led by Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to make a claim for medical negligence. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on  0333 123 9099, email us at enquiries@ibbclaims.co.uk or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.

The information contained within our Blog Articles is provided as general information only. It does not constitute legal or professional advice or seek to be an exhaustive statement of the law and should not be relied on or treated as a substitute for specific advice relevant to particular circumstances. For further details, please see our terms of use policy.