Misdiagnosing Colon Cancer

One out of twenty people in the United States will, at some point in their lives, be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Yet shockingly, approximately one-third of those who should be screened for the disease are not up to date with their check ups. This is tragic, because as many as 60% of all colon cancer deaths could be prevented with timely screening (and subsequent treatment).

While we have been making some progress—the mortality rate declined by 30% from 1991 to 2009, likely because of better and more vigilant screening practices—there’s a long way to go. The disease remains the second greatest cause of cancer-related death among men, and the third greatest among women. The American Cancer Society currently estimates colon cancer to cause approximately 50,000 deaths a year. Although extensive screening and greater awareness of symptoms has led to a significant decrease in the colorectal cancer death rate in recent years, misdiagnosis remains a concerning problem.

Treatments are far more effective when the disease is identified in its early stages, and yet, many sufferers are not diagnosed until they’ve reached stage III or IV. Negligence often plays a role in misdiagnosis, with some patients eligible for malpractice compensation.

What Are the Symptoms of Colon Cancer?

Most colon cancer patients do not experience obvious symptoms in the early stages of the disease. This lack of clear symptoms makes regular screening that much more important. As signs begin to appear, they can vary significantly from one patient to the next. Common markers of colon cancer include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Abdominal discomfort or cramping
  • Unexplainable weight loss

Under What Circumstances Is Colon Cancer Misdiagnosed Or Diagnosed Too Late?

Sometimes, clinicians detect signs of colon cancer during standard screenings, but fail to take further action. Others misread results from colonoscopies or other screenings. Both issues cause major delays in treatment. As they continue to suffer untreated symptoms, patients lose precious time, all while running a greater risk of the cancer turning metastatic.

Many of the early symptoms of colon cancer resemble those associated with colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Often, misdiagnosis occurs when medical professionals assume that patients have these or other diseases, and fail to follow up with cancer screening. Cancerous polyps may also be mistaken for diverticulitis, a condition marked by bulging sacs in the lining of the large intestine.

The Importance of Colonoscopy Screening

Recent improvements to the colorectal cancer survival rate have largely been attributed to the increased prevalence of colonoscopy screening. This is one of the chief means of catching colon cancer early, especially as the initial symptoms can be difficult to detect. The five-year survival rate for those with stage I colorectal cancer is 92 percent, but by stage IIB, the rate drops to just 63 percent. Stage IV (also known as metastatic cancer) has a survival rate of just 11 percent.

During colorectal screening, medical experts watch for polyps, tumors, and other signs of cancer. Any polyps detected during a colonoscopy can be removed immediately. Not all people can have colonscopies, however, and in some situations, they are not sufficient for cancer detection. Other screening methods include sigmoidoscopy, fecal occult blood test, DNA stool tests, and double contrast barium enema.

How Misdiagnosis Impacts Recovery

Because survival rates are so low for metastatic colorectal cancers, it’s imperative that the condition is detected as early as possible. Every month that passes without detection is another month in which the cancer can spread beyond the colon. Early interventions are typically very effective. For very mild cases, the cancerous polyp is simply removed during the colonoscopy. If the tumor is too large to warrant a local excision, a larger portion of the colon may be removed. Recovery from these procedures is typically quick, with patients often able to avoid the discomfort of chemotherapy or radiation.

If colon cancer is not identified during stages 0 or I, the cancer may spread to other areas, including, most alarmingly, the lymph nodes. At this point, chemotherapy and radiation are essential. Although effective, these treatments cause severe pain and discomfort, not to mention extensive medical costs. Sadly, in many misdiagnosis cases, these treatments merely control the disease or ease pain, rather than actually rid the body of cancer.

Options For Victims of Misdiagnosis

There is no reversing the pain brought about by delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis, but with legal action, you could at least cover some of the related medical expenses, or lingering costs after a loved one succumbs to cancer. Successful lawsuits garner compensation for hospital visits, ongoing rehabilitation, emotional duress, and loss of wages. Those who pursue wrongful death lawsuits may be able to obtain remuneration for lost income and lost consortium, plus assistance with remaining medical bills and even the cost of burial.

In select cases involving gross negligence, victims and their loved ones can also recover punitive damages, designed to hold individuals and health care organizations accountable and to set an example for others. A trusted malpractice attorney can help you determine the likelihood of proving negligence, and coming away with the remuneration you deserve.

Did misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of colon cancer lead to unnecessary suffering or the death of a loved one? The Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys of Rosenbaum & Associates are eager to help. Call 1-800-7-LEGAL-7 to learn more and to schedule a free consultation.