Although the diagnosis of cancer strikes fear in the hearts of the newly affected, most people, bombarded by the media with news of advances in treatment, believe that with the proper care they can be cured. So what happens if things don’t go well and the person dies?
At some point a family member may begin to wonder whether more could or should have been done. This feeling may eventuate in a visit to a lawyer to see whether the doctor or doctors caring for the decedent should have provided better care. Sometimes there was an error but not what the family thinks.
Some cancers are so lethal that it doesn’t matter when the diagnosis is made: the results are destined to be bad. Some cancers are so well behaved that the afflicted can be saved even after mismanagement. The cancers in the middle can be the litigation battleground.
The biggest culprit in a bad outcome for patients with curable cancer is delayed cancer diagnosis. Sometimes the patient knows something is wrong and procrastinates. Sometimes the doctor through ignorance or inattention misses the diagnosis when it should have been obvious. Sometimes the cancer was there to be found before the first symptom but no testing was done.
Why should you test someone who has no symptoms? That’s the basis for cancer screening, e.g.,mammography, Pap smears and colonoscopy. There are robust data for those three cancers that screening saves lives because you find the cancer when it is still highly curable. What about the primary care doctor who, through disorganization, inattention or lack of conviction, fails to screen his patients for cancer in the face of these data? One can argue that this is a legitimate issue for litigation over a bad cancer outcome.