Cancer Misdiagnosis

Medical Negligence claims can involve a delay in diagnosis of cancer. However it is not enough to show that the delay in diagnosing and treating the cancer was negligent, it must also be possible to show that a loss or injury has arisen as a result of this delay.

For example where the delay is a relatively short one, it may not be possible to bring a claim if it cannot be shown that the delay has resulted in a worse outcome, such as a reduced life expectancy or that the delay has denied an opportunity for less invasive treatment.

Breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in Australian women. The biggest risk factor for breast cancer is age. As there is no current method of preventing the onset of breast cancer it is important that the cancer be detected and treated as early as possible. Self-examination and regular mammograms are essential for successful treatment and higher survival rates.

What are the usual symptoms of breast cancer?

Symptoms of breast cancer include breast lumps and thickening of the breast area and near the underarms. Other symptoms include changes to the shape of the nipple, discharge from the nipple and breast dimples.

What tests should be performed?

When a person presents with these symptoms, the usual tests a medical practitioner should undertake and/or arrange are a clinical examination, a mammogram, ultrasound, or a needle biopsy if there is a breast lump that needs to be investigated.

Lung cancer

In Australia, lung cancer is a leading cause of cancer death, representing approx 18% of cancer deaths each year. There are approx 8,200 new cases of lung cancer year.

There are two types of lung cancer: small cell (representing 80% of lung cancer cases) and non small cell (20%). Lung cancer develops when cancerous cells start growing in the lung cavity, usually in the lining of the airway. Lung cancer can become advanced when it spreads into the chest wall and surrounding lymph nodes. The causes of lung cancer are fairly well known, with up to 90 per cent of lung cancer deaths caused by smoking. However exposure to asbestos, steel, nickel, radiation and coal gas processing have also been connected to lung cancer.

What are the usual symptoms of lung cancer?

Symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pain, blood when coughing, lethargy, weight loss and unexplained loss of appetite.

What tests should be performed?

An x-ray can assist with diagnosis, as can a biopsy of tissue taken during the course of a bronchoscopy, as well as an examination of sputum for cancerous cells.

Colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon and rectum, or the entire large bowel. In Australia, it is the second most common cancer in both men and women and kills more than 4000 people every year.  Colorectal cancer is preceded by the presence of polyps which, if undetected, can lead to cancer. Methods of preventing colorectal cancer include not smoking, a good diet and maintaining a healthy body weight.

What are the usual symptoms of colorectal cancer?

Symptoms of colorectal cancer include pain and tenderness in the lower abdomen, blood when passing faeces, diarrhoea, intestinal obstruction, weight loss and unexplained loss of appetite.

What tests should be performed?

Diagnostic tests include a digitial rectal exam, imaging tests such as a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy and fecal occult blood test that can detects hidden/occult blood in faeces. A biopsy can also be done to test tissue from a suspected area.

Skin cancer (Melanoma)

Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, with 9,500 new cases annually resulting in 1,200 deaths from this condition alone.Skin cancer is a disease of the body's skin cells caused mainly by heavy exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This overexposure to UV radiation may cause the skin cells to grow abnormally. These abnormal skin cells can develop into various types of skin cancer if they are not destroyed by the body's natural defence systems.

What are the usual symptoms of skin cancer?

Melanoma usually appears as a spot on the skin of different pigmentation . The usual symptoms of melanoma are known as ABCDE, ie a mole or a spot that is asymmetrical, has an irregular border, is uneven in colour, a diameter of more than 6mm and is evolving.

What tests should be performed?

Diagnosing skin cancer is generally done through a physical examination and a biopsy of the suspected growth once it has been removed.

Prostate cancer

Approximately 2,800 Australia men die from prostate cancer each year and 13,500 are diagnosed with the disease annually. As it is most common in older men, often prostate cancer does not cause problems and goes undetected for many years. Like most cancers there are two stages for this type of cancer. Early prostate cancer is contained within the prostate tissue, however, advanced prostate cancer is cancer that has grown and spread rapidly to other parts of the body.

What are the usual symptoms of prostate cancer?

The symptoms of prostate cancer are often non-specific, and include frequent and painful urination, particularly at night.

What tests should be performed?

Diagnosis of prostate cancer is done with a digital rectal examination to feel the prostate. A blood test, looking for prostate specific antigen blood can also be carried out, as can a rectal ultrasound and a needle biopsy of the suspected area.

Ovarian cancer

1,000 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer annually and it is responsible for 781 deaths a year. Cancer that develops in any part of the ovaries is generally called ovarian cancer, although there are three types of ovarian cancer:

  • epithelial type which occurs on cells outside the ovaries
    (representing 90% of cases)
  • germ cell type arising from cells which produce eggs, and
  • the rare stromal type which occurs on supporting tissue within the
    ovary.

The causes of ovarian cancer are relatively unknown, however, like breast cancer there seem to be certain factors that put some women at a higher risk including age, lifestyle habits and family history.

What are the usual symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Because the exact causes of ovarian cancer are not yet known the symptoms can be quite vague and common with other disorders. Symptoms may include bloating, appetite loss, heartburn, weight gain, abdominal and back pain, fatigue and painful intercourse or vaginal bleeding. As a result ovarian cancer is very hard to accurately diagnose, particularly in its early stages.

What tests should be performed?

There is no specific test for ovarian cancer. It is generally diagnosed through a combination of ultrasounds, taking a family and medical history, doing a physical examination of the abdomen and pelvic area, feeling for nodules on the floor of the pelvis and pap smears.