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Delayed / Failed Diagnosis of Colon / Rectal Cancer
Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon), which is the lowest part of the digestive system. Rectal cancer is cancer of the last six inches of the colon. Together, they are referred to as colorectal cancers. Each year in the United States, nearly 150,000 men and women are diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
The vast majority of colorectal cancers grow slowly over a period of several years, typically beginning as small benign growths called polyps. Removing a polyp early, before it is permitted to become malignant, prevents the polyp from developing into colorectal cancer. This is the reason why procedures such as colonoscopy help to prevent the occurrence of colorectal cancer.
In addition, colonoscopy allows colorectal cancer to be diagnosed at an early stage, before it has metastasized (spread to other organs or tissue elsewhere in the body). The difference in outcome is dramatic: the National Cancer Institute has reported five year survival rates at better than 90% when the cancer is discovered before it spreads and, tragically, lower than 10% if the cancer is not discovered until there is distant metastasis.
All men and women should be offered colon cancer screening beginning at age 50. Men and women at increased risk, such as those with a family history of colorectal cancer, should be offered colon cancer screening at an earlier point in time.
A doctor has the responsibility to recommend testing for anyone who has symptoms which suggest the possibility of colorectal cancer.
Screening and testing for Colorectal Cancer
The primary method of screening or testing for colorectal cancer is colonoscopy. In a colonoscopy, a thin tube with a light on the end is inserted in the rectum while the patient is sedated. When properly performed, this procedure allows the doctor to visualize the entire colon and rectum. Any polyps or growths that are visualized are removed during the procedure and sent for pathological analysis. Other ways in which doctors seek to investigate the possibility of colorectal cancer include stool blood testing, barium enema, and flexible sigmoidoscopy.
Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
In some cases, colorectal cancer can be present in the absence of any symptoms. That is why screening tests such as colonoscopy are used to find the cancer early, when it is easier to cure. When symptoms do occur, they may include:
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
- Change in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool)
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Feeling like the bowel does not empty completely
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
Medical Mistakes Can Delay Diagnosis of Colorectal Cancer
Here are some common medical mistakes and errors that can cause a preventable delay in diagnosing colorectal cancer:
- Failure to offer or recommend routine colon cancer screening
- Failure to obtain family history of colon cancer
- Failure to offer or recommend early colon cancer screening for men and women at increased risk
- Failure to order blood stool testing
- Failure to offer or recommend colonoscopy in the presence of symptoms such as rectal bleeding
- Failing to investigate low red blood cell counts (anemia)
- Failure to refer to a Gastroenterologist in a timely manner
- Failure to properly perform a colonoscopy
- Failing to identify and remove a polyp or lesion at colonoscopy
- Mistaking landmarks within the large intestine during colonoscopy
- Failing to visualize the entire colon during colonoscopy
- Failure to properly follow up on results of colonoscopy
- Mistakes in the pathological interpretation of tissue samples
- Failure to coordinate or communicate with other medical care providers
Injuries Caused by the Failure to Diagnose Colorectal Cancer
Early detection of colorectal cancer is life saving. Misdiagnosis or delayed treatment can create the need to surgically remove the colon, and the necessity of a colostomy bag. In addition, delay means more aggressive treatment, including the possibility of radical surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Sometimes the delay is so great that premature death cannot be avoided. Types of harm caused by delayed damage of colorectal cancer include:
- Premature death
- Inoperable cancer
- Severe physical pain
- Complete or partial loss of bowel function
- Removal of the colon and other organs
- Treatment which is more invasive, aggressive, and painful
- Treatment which is significantly more expensive
- Significantly increased recovery time
- Lost wages
- Long-term or permanent disability
How We Can Help
No amount of money can make up for unnecessary or preventable death, or for the added pain of knowing that premature death would probably have been avoided had health care professionals acted properly. However, premature death creates a financial burden on families, and the responsible party should bear that cost. In addition, delayed treatment of colorectal cancer creates additional health care costs, lost wages, and in some cases permanent disability.
If you or a loved one has been injured or lost their life due to what you suspect may have been a failure to diagnose colon cancer, you may be entitled to compensation including:
- Current and future medical bills
- Current and future loss of wages
- Long-term disability
- Long-term care expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of companionship
- Burial expenses
Learn more about frequently asked questions related to colon cancer misdiagnosis.
Collectively, New Jersey medical malpractice lawyers Michael L. Weiss, Esq. and Robert E. Paarz, Esq. have presented over 10 medical malpractice cases relating to the failure to diagnose colorectal cancer to juries and have helped many families achieve substantial financial recoveries. They are committed to using their knowledge and experience to help any individual or family who has suffered a severe, permanent injury or death due to medical malpractice to obtain fair compensation. If you believe you or a loved one may have experienced such an injury, please contact Weiss & Paarz, P.C., today.