breast cancer medical malpractice

According to The Doctors Company, a major insurance carrier for healthcare providers, lawsuits involving breast cancer are the most common cancer-related claim. Breast cancer is the most common type of non-skin cancer in women in the United States and is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer death in women. Being female and older in age are the main risk factors for breast cancer. Other risk factors are smoking, obesity, and not getting enough exercise.

Over 90% of breast cancer malpractice cases allege a diagnostic error, meaning a delay, a missed diagnosis, or just a wrong diagnosis. The physicians sued are often radiologists (reading X-rays/mammograms) or gynecologists (poor patient history and physical exam and failing to obtain tests or a consult). These errors can lead to a progressive evolution of the malignancy that may go untreated until it is too late.

Some examples of doctor errors involving the diagnosis of breast cancer are:

  • Assuming that a mass in a young woman is not cancer.
  • Ignoring a breast mass in a pregnant, lactating, or elderly woman.
  • Assume a nipple discharge is just hormonal.
  • Order a diagnostic study and fail to assure it is completed.
  • Allowing a woman with a known issue to be lost to follow up.
  • Telling a woman not to worry about a mass she brings to your attention.
  • Failing to suggest breast cancer screening in appropriate patients.
  • Allowing a questionable or apparently negative mammogram to delay biopsy of a suspicious mass.
  • Relying on a technically inadequate mammogram.
  • Failing to compare current mammograms to prior studies.
  • Failing to personally inform the referring physician of suspicious findings.
  • Telling a patient that with the benefit of hindsight, a nonspecific finding on a prior mammogram was actually cancer.
  • Deciding to delay biopsy of a lesion, which proved to be malignant.

Even with proof that a doctor made in error resulting in a diagnostic error, a plaintiff in a malpractice case must also prove that the error caused the patient’s injury (e.g., more extensive surgery required because of delay). If, however, I am the victim of an error by Doctor A but two months later I am diagnosed properly by Doctor B and get needed treatment, I likely do not have a case against Doctor A even though he was negligent.