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Posted on 21st April 2017

How does Cancer Misdiagnosis Happen and Can you Make a Claim for it

In 2013 there were 352,197 new cases of cancer according to Cancer Research UK and 163,444 people died.

The Office for National Statistics recently released a report that states that cancers and non-cancerous abnormal tissue growths were the leading cause of avoidable deaths. They accounted for 35% of all avoidable deaths in England and Wales in 2014.

Why are different types cancers misdiagnosed?

When you google “Why is cancer missed” you will see thousands of results. The first page alone is dominated by news stories of people who have symptoms which were missed by medically trained staff. So why does it happen?

Cancer of the kidney, thyroid and blood are classed as rare cancer and can be difficult to diagnose as their symptoms are often the same as other less serious conditions such as tiredness, weight loss and lack of appetite.

The Rarer Cancers Foundation found that a quarter of patients with a rarer form of cancer are only diagnosed when the disease has spread to other organs.

Last year, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) produced new guidelines to speed up referral times of patients who were presenting symptoms of cancer. Below is an example of the new system versus the old system, produced by Cancer Research UK

Breast Cancer Guidelines

Why types of cancer are commonly misdiagnosed?

The Office for National Statistics avoidable death report says that in 2014 the biggest killer was tumours. Around a third of all avoidable deaths were linked to tumours and this renewed concerns surrounding late diagnosis of cancer.

Cancer research UK found that lung cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and ovarian cancerare rarely diagnosed at an early stage and some cancers, such as pancreatic, are only symptomatic when the cancer has begun to spread.

Ten commonly ignored signs of cancer

Earlier this year Australian Medical Association vice president, Dr Tony Bartone, revealed the top ten warning signs that could mean you have cancer. The symptom should be new and there should be no obvious other explanation for it. If you have any of the symptoms below for more than a couple of weeks you should visit a doctor.

1. Fever

If it lasts longer than two or three days, then you should see a doctor. On rare occasions it could mean cancer of the immune system.

2. Pain swallowing

This is not commonly an early sign, but it can be a sign of oesophageal or throat cancer. However, by the time this symptom shows itself this type of cancer is usually quite advanced.

3. Weight loss

Unexplained weight loss always needs to be investigated by a doctor. If you are a smoker and have a cough when this happens then your doctor should be looking at conditions linked to your lungs.

4. Changes in bowel habits

Bowel cancer is very common, it is in the top four most common cancers. If there is a change in your regular bowel habits, without a good reason, then you should see your doctor.

5. Change in skin colour

Check freckles and moles for any changes in colour, size, shape or surface area as this could be a sign of melanoma or malignant skin cancers.

6. Heartburn

Persistent heartburn should be checked out by your doctor as it could be a sign of oesophageal cancer. This can be missed by doctors so if you are a smoker, have a family history of cancer or have had weight loss make sure you mention any or all of these factors.

7. Lump in your breast or testicle

Any abnormal lumps in these areas should be discussed with a doctor. Women should look for any changes in the shape of their nipples.

8. Fatigue

If you have felt very tired for a couple of weeks and it has been a constant feeling you should see your doctor. Depending on your family history and personal circumstances this could be a very clear symptom of cancer.

9. Fingernails

Changes to your fingernails could be an indication of lung cancer. Any changes in shape, buckling, thickening or excessive breaking of nails can highlight a problem and should be seen by a doctor.

10. Blood in your urine

Any blood in your urine should be followed up by a doctor.

What should you do if you think you have been misdiagnosed?

If you believe that your symptoms were missed and this has led to a delay in your treatment, or if you have suffered the loss of a loved one because of cancer misdiagnosis, you may be entitled to compensation.

During illness or in death, the financial burden on you and your family is often a worrying factor. Whilst compensation will never fully make up for the trauma or loss of a loved one, it may help to ease the financial worries.

Like all medical negligence claims you need to be able to prove:

  • Your doctor did not provide you with a reasonable standard of care
  • You suffered actual harm, either physical or mental, because of the lack of care

You have three years from the time you realised negligence had taken place. You can read more about limitations here.

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