For several cancers such as colon cancer there are clear recommendations and guidelines for the tests to conduct when a patient complains of certain symptoms. In the event that a doctor fails to adhere to these recommendations and the patient does have cancer which eventually winds up spreading due to the resulting delay in detecting the cancer, that physician may be liable for medical malpractice. As an example of such a situation look at the following published lawsuit.
When the individual in this matter first commenced treating with his internist the physician did a full physical examination and documented his findings of both internal and external hemorrhoids. The physician noted that the patient had bleeding from the rectum periodically. The physician did not do any more testing to determine if there was any blood in the patient’s stool or to determine the source of the bleeding. Also, despite the fact that the individual was fifty years old when, the doctor did not send the man for a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy in order to screen for colon cancer
Two years later, having experienced several days of abdominal pain the man was seen in the urgent care department at his physician’s office. The man was examined by a nurse who noted in his record that she found occult blood in the man’s stool using a guiaic test. A few days later the patient returned to check in with the physician for the results of the examination however the physician failed to take any action with respect to the blood previously found in his stool. The physician did however suggest that the individual have a screening sigmoidoscopy and sent him to a gastroenterologist.
The gastroenterologist performed the sigmoidoscopy as requested by the primary care physician rather than a full colonoscopy. The gastroenterologist only examined up to thirty-five centimeters and noted merely the presence of hemorrhoids none of which were bleeding but failed to determine the reason for the prior finding of blood in the stool.
Two years later, the patient was again seen by the internist this time for bloating of the abdomen. During the physical examination of the man, the doctor could detect an a mass along the liver and ordered a CT scan which found large masses present both in the liver and also the colon:. Now the internist finally sent the patient for a colonoscopy which found colon cancer. By this point, the patient had metastatic colon cancer which had progressed to such a degree that he was no longer a candidate for surgery. The patient commenced treating with chemotherapy but died just over a year after his diagnosis.
The man’s family pursued a lawsuit against both doctors. The law firm that handled this matter announced that they were succesfull in achieving a settlement for $ 1.5 million on behalf of the man’s family. This matter demonstrates why it is so important to do proper tests for symptoms that raise the suspicion of colon cancer. In particular when a patient has blood in the stool physicians generally recognize that a colonoscopy and not a sigmoidoscopy should be done to eliminate the possibility cancer. By performing only a sigmoidoscopy in this matter the physicians did not examine the entire length of the patient’s colon and thus wrongly eliminated colon cancer as a possible source for the blood. This led to a 2 year delay in the detection of the patient’s cancer. The law firm that handled this case for the man’s family no doubt had medical experts able to offer testimony that had such a delay not occurred the individual’s cancer would not have spread and the man would have survived after treatment.