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Posted on 24th April 2017

Medical Negligence: Misdiagnosis of cancer

Cancer - what can go wrong

If you, or a loved one, have received sub-standard medical care, including a delay in diagnosis, treatment or referral, you may have grounds for a medical negligence claim for the misdiagnosis of cancer. If something goes wrong and your quality of life is severely affected as a result of misdiagnosis, you may be able to make a complaint or claim compensation.

The term “misdiagnosis of cancer” may include a range of scenarios, including:

  • being told you have cancer when you don’t
  • cancer being diagnosed incorrectly as another medical condition, or
  • the diagnosis of cancer being made at too late a stage for any treatment to make a significant improvement to your condition.

Before making a claim against your healthcare professional or medical organisation, speak to one of our team. We will pass your information to one of our expert medical negligence panel members. It is free and confidential.  

How can cancer misdiagnosis happen?

Doctors are highly trained individuals, but they are not perfect and even the most experienced doctor may misinterpret the signs or symptoms of an illness. It’s possible for mistakes to be made in a lab or signs to be missed on x-rays or other scans.

If something has gone wrong in the course of consultations that leads to the diagnosis of cancer, you deserve acknowledgement of any mistakes made and, if necessary, financial compensation. There are a number of ways in which grounds for a misdiagnosis claim can be established. You should consider:

  • Did the medical professional examine you correctly?
  • Were all symptoms recorded and investigated properly?
  • Were all the necessary tests carried out in a timely manner?
  • Were test results assessed correctly and by a specialist? (there have been cases of medical negligence where test results were interpreted incorrectly leading to wrong or delayed diagnoses)
  • Were you referred for scans (x-rays, MRI etc) in a timely manner?
  • Were you referred to an oncologist (cancer specialist) early enough?

If you were incorrectly diagnosed as having cancer when it was, in fact, another condition, you should find out if your test results were read incorrectly, or if the much rarer circumstance of there being a mix-up with the results. This could apply if you are already suffering from cancer and you are told incorrectly that it has spread to another part of the body (secondary tumours).

Things to consider when making your claim

If your diagnosis was incorrect, you may have made significant changes to your life in the belief that you had cancer. You may have given up work or made modifications to your home. There is the psychological effect that a cancer diagnosis can have on you and the people around you. Some people may feel unable to cope with the mental strain of being given the diagnosis, and will suffer more emotional difficulty when they find out that the initial diagnosis was not right. This may have a negative effect on their how they manage their health, lifestyle and relationships.

If your diagnosis was delayed due to medical negligence, you may have had to undergo life-changing surgery or the effects of chemotherapy (which has led to reduced fertility, amongst other possibilities). If you were treated for another condition this may also have had a negative effect on your health before the correct diagnosis of cancer was made.

The severity of your situation as a result of medical negligence and misdiagnosis will have a direct effect on the value of your claim. Some things such as loss of earnings are more easily calculated. There are some things, such as psychological effects and detriment to your health which may be more difficult to assess. The legal term for these costs is ‘damages’. They are usually split into two categories; general damages and special damages.

What may be included in your special damages claim:

  • Loss of earnings – this may be loss of earnings from becoming too ill to work as well as the loss of future earnings if you are not able to return to work. You may also be able to claim for some loss of earnings for a spouse or family member if they have been forced to give up work to contribute to your care
  • Travel costs – if you are required to travel a significant distance to see specialists you can claim for fuel costs and accommodation
  • Parking expenses for time spent in hospital
  • Childcare costs – if you need to pay for child care while you are in hospital
  • Modifications to your home – for example, if you are required to use a wheelchair and this deterioration in health could have been prevented by a correct and timely diagnosis
  • Specialist equipment you need in your home to live to a quality of life you are used to
  • Any extra care or medical treatment costs (outside of NHS care)

General damages include, but are not limited to:

  • Pain and suffering – pain caused by incorrect treatment or preventable surgery
  • Loss of amenity – for example the effect on an athlete’s career caused by incorrect treatment
  • Psychological suffering
  • How much the negligence has effected your quality of life

There have been cases of cancer misdiagnosis and late diagnosis that have had devastating effects on the patients’ lives. In some cases, the diagnosis has come so late that there has not been enough time for fertility-preservation treatments. Some patients have had to have life-changing surgery and even amputations to remove and prevent the spread of cancer. The extent of these will be considered when calculating your damages claim.

If you were misdiagnosed as having cancer when it was in fact another, ultimately treatable condition, the compensation framework will be the same, particularly in the case of general damages.

If you would like to find out more about claiming for compensation, contact our helpful team today.

Some useful links:

Citizens Advice

NHS Constitution

Healthwatch UK


Further Information