Misdiagnosing Lung Cancer

Outside of skin cancer, lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer for both women and men. The mortality rate for the disease peaked in 2005, according to analysts, and it has since declined by 2.3%. Nevertheless, it remains a terrible and deadly form of cancer, killing over 50% within a single year of diagnosis. Experts at the American Cancer Society estimate that 14 percent of all new cancers involve the lungs. There are approximately 150,000 deaths from lung cancer a year. The disease is the leading cause of cancer deaths, shockingly outnumbering deaths from prostate, breast, and colon cancers combined.

Certain people are clearly at an elevated risk of lung cancer; extensive research has demonstrated that smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke are far more likely to develop the disease. Those who work in certain industries or live in high pollution areas are also at greater risk. Despite being well aware of these risks, many physicians fail to push as aggressively for screening as they should, or fail to pursue further testing if the telltale signs of cancer appear. Others diagnose their patients with other lung diseases that only slightly resemble lung cancer. Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis prevent patients from obtaining the early treatments they so desperately need, resulting in more pain later on, and a much lower likelihood of survival.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

Several notable symptoms lead to lung cancer diagnosis, although these can sometimes be confused with the signs of other diseases and conditions. Common symptoms include:

  • Severe cough that grows worse over time
  • Coughing up phlegm
  • Chest pain that grows worse whenever you cough or laugh
  • Shortness of breath

As lung cancer grows more severe, the symptoms may spread to other parts of the body. The liver is commonly affected, with patients taking on a yellow, jaundiced appearance. If the cancer spreads to the brain or spinal cord, patients may experience frequent headaches, dizziness, or seizures.

The Diagnosis Process and How Lung Cancer Is Misdiagnosed

Certain patients are far more at risk for lung cancer than others; these individuals must be monitored closely, especially as they age. Unfortunately, despite awareness of the increased risk, lung cancer can be extraordinarily difficult to detect. Even if medical professionals note that something is wrong, they may diagnose a completely different disease. Extensive screening is thus absolutely imperative, and further testing should follow any potential signs of lung cancer.

Many people with high risk of cancer undergo annual computerized tomography (CT) scans. Lung cancer can also be revealed at its earlier stages through sputum cytology, a common next step for patients with suspect coughing. If lesions or other issues are identified during CT scans or other tests, the next step is a biopsy.

Misdiagnosis typically occurs before a biopsy is deemed necessary, although health care professionals sometimes misread biopsy results. In cases involving severe coughing, lung cancer may be improperly identified as tuberculosis, bronchitis, or pneumonia.

What Happens If Lung Cancer Is Misdiagnosed?

Survival rates for lung cancer are far lower than for many other types of cancer, but if the disease is detected early, the chances of full recovery remain somewhat promising. At stage IA for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the five-year survival rate is about 49 percent. By stage IIA, this drops to 30 percent. The survival rate for stage IIIA NSLC is 14 percent, and by the time the cancer has become metastic, hopes of recovery are quite small — the five-year survival rate at this stage is just 1 percent.

Early detection is clearly crucial with NSCLC; by the time the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it’s simply too difficult to treat. Even if treatment is possible at later stages, it’s far more invasive and uncomfortable. At stages 0 and I, cancer can be removed through surgery alone or via photodynamic therapy, but after that, most patients must submit to the discomfort of chemotherapy, radiation, or both. Some stage II patients can restrict treatment to sleeve resection or pneumonectomy (removal of the entire lung). At stage III, patients in good health can occasionally be cured via chemotherapy or radiation, but more often, these approaches are merely used to control the cancer and reduce pain.

What Are the Options For Victims of Lung Cancer Misdiagnosis?

Given the severe pain and suffering caused by misdiagnosis, it is only fair that responsible parties be held accountable via medical malpractice lawsuits. If successful, legal action can lead to extensive damages covering medical expenses, loss of wages, and emotional duress. Due to the low survival rate, many medical malpractice lung cancer cases involve wrongful death, in which the victim’s survivors seek assistance with medical bills and burial costs, plus compensation for loss of companionship. Compensatory damages are most common, but punitive damages may be possible in cases involving gross negligence.

With the right medical malpractice attorneys on your side, you can hold responsible parties accountable for their negligence. Rosenbaum & Associates is a great resource to have in your corner, so call 1-800-7-LEGAL-7 for a free case consultation.