Failure to Timely Diagnose Cancer
Cancer often goes undetected until it is at an advanced stage. Did your doctor commit malpractice by not finding it earlier?
How Are Liability, Causation, & Damages Satisfied for This Case Type
There needs to have been a reason for the doctor to catch it earlier than it was discovered. For example, if a patient went to their doctor with a complaint suggestive of cancer and the doctor failed to run the appropriate tests, then this is malpractice. Alternatively, if a colonoscopy or any imaging was obtained and the doctor failed to recognize the cancer which was present, this too is malpractice. If, however, the patient made no complaints related to the cancer and routine screening was not indicated, there is likely no liability.
Did the failure to detect cancer earlier lead to the advancement of cancer? Causation most commonly comes up in failure to diagnose cancer cases. This is because in cancer cases, the claim is that the failure to timely diagnose the cancer caused progression of the disease. The claim is not that the cancer would have been avoided altogether. Recognizing this, an important question to ask in a failure to diagnose cancer case is "how long was the delay between when the doctor should have diagnosed the cancer and when it was ultimately diagnosed?" If the delay was a few weeks, causation will likely be lacking, but if the delay was years or perhaps even months, causation is stronger.
What injury did the delay in diagnosis cause? Damages in a failure to timely diagnose cancer case are unique in that we often do not know what the long term consequences are. Say for example the cancer should have been detected a few years ago and when it finally was diagnosed it was stage 3. Some of the damages may be clear, such as what additional treatments the patient required because it was stage 3 rather than stage 1. However, a big unknown is what impact did the delay have on the patient's life long term? As such, there is a legal theory of recovery called "loss of chance". In essence, we argue that the delay in diagnosis decreased the patient's chances for a cure and increased the chance of recurrence in the future (assuming the patient goes into remission).