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Failure to Diagnose Cancer

Early detection of cancer is critical. Doing so opens the door to available treatments, and greatly increases a person’s likelihood of survival. There are many types of cancer that can be detected through routine medical “screening” or testing.

Too often, people are diagnosed with late-stage cancers that could and should have been detected in its early stages, but because their cancer wasn’t diagnosed earlier, they face the prospect of increased medical costs, or an early death, because a physician failed to recommend routine screening and testing, or misread a critical test.

At Porter Nordby Howe LLP, we have extensive experience prosecuting these types of medical malpractice cases, and we routinely hold physicians accountable for failing to take steps to identify and diagnose cancer in a timely manner, thereby denying our clients the benefit of available treatments, longer survival and, in many cases, a cure. Learning that you have cancer is hard enough, but learning that you were denied the opportunity for a treatment or cure because your doctor committed malpractice is a fate that no person should have to endure. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a late stage cancer, and you have questions about whether it should have been diagnosed earlier, we can help you get answers.

Medical malpractice cases involving delayed cancer diagnoses routinely involve certain types of cancer which can and should be discovered through routine medical screening/testing as recommended by many authoritative medical bodies (including the American Cancer Society). The American Cancer Society publishes clear guidelines for physicians to follow with their patients for early detection and treatment of the following types of cancer:

  • Breast Cancer

    An annual mammogram is recommended starting at age 40, and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health.

    Clinical breast exam (CBE) is recommended about every three years for women in their twenties and thirties, and every year for women 40 and over. Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their twenties. Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and promptly report any changes to their health care provider.

    Some women – because of family history, a genetic tendency, or other factors – should be screened with MRI in addition to mammograms.

  • Cervical Cancer

    Cervical cancer screening (testing) should begin at age 21. Women under age 21 should not be tested.

    Women between ages 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every three years. The human papillomavirus (HPV) test is also available, but is not normally used in this age group unless it is warranted after an abnormal Pap test.

    Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have a Pap test plus an HPV test (called “co-testing”) every five years. This is the preferred approach, but it is also acceptable to have a Pap test alone every three years.

    Women over age 65 who have had regular cervical cancer testing with normal results should not be tested for cervical cancer. Once testing is stopped, it should not be started again. Women with a history of a serious cervical pre-cancer should continue to be tested for at least 20 years after that diagnosis, even if testing continues past age 65.

    A woman who has had her uterus removed (and also her cervix) for reasons not related to cervical cancer, and who has no history of cervical cancer or serious pre-cancer, should not be tested.

    A woman who has been vaccinated against HPV should still follow the screening recommendations for her age group.

    Some women, because of their health history, may need to have a different screening schedule for cervical cancer.

  • Colorectal Cancers

    Beginning at age 50, both men and women should follow one of these testing schedules:

    Tests that find polyps and cancer:

    • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years*; or
    • Colonoscopy every 10 years; or
    • Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years*; or
    • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years.*

    Tests that primarily find cancer:

    • Yearly fecal occult blood test (FOBT);*,** or
    • Yearly fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year;*,** or

    * If the test is positive, a colonoscopy should be done.

    ** The multiple stool take-home test should be used. One test done by the doctor in the office is not adequate for testing. A colonoscopy should be done if the test is positive.

    Talk to your doctor about which test is best for you. Some people should be screened using a different schedule because of their personal history or family history. Talk with your doctor about your history and what colorectal cancer screening schedule is best for you.

  • Endometrial Cancer

    The American Cancer Society recommends that, at the time of menopause, all women should be told about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer. Women should report any unexpected bleeding or spotting to their doctors. Some women, because of their history, may need to consider a yearly endometrial biopsy. Please talk with your doctor about your history.

  • Lung Cancer

    The American Cancer Society does not recommend tests to screen for lung cancer in people who are at average risk of this disease. However, the ACS does have screening guidelines for individuals who are at high risk of lung cancer due to cigarette smoking. If you meet all of the following criteria then you may be a candidate for screening:

    • 55 to 74 years of age;
    • In fairly good health; and
    • You have at least a 30 pack/year smoking history AND you are either still smoking or have quit smoking within the last 15 years.
  • Prostate Cancer

    Starting at age 50, physicians should talk with their male patients about the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening so the patient can decide, with the physician’s advice, whether Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) testing is the right choice for them. If a man is African American or has a father or brother who had prostate cancer before age 65, he should talk with his doctor about starting screening at age 45. If men decide to be tested, they should have the PSA test with or without a rectal exam. How often they are tested will depend on their PSA level.

  • Skin Cancer/Melanoma

    Individuals should be routinely screened by their primary care physician and/or dermatologist if they discover any suspicious moles and/or experience exposure to the sun. Skin cancers are one of the most prevalent forms of cancer. Routine screening for skin cancer and pre-cancerous lesions is imperative to one’s overall health.

You should call us if you or a loved one has been the victim of a late cancer diagnosis because your doctor:

  • failed to order routine screening or testing prior to your diagnosis;
  • ordered tests but never shared the results with you;
  • ignored your symptoms;
  • failed to refer you to an appropriate specialist (e.g., gastroenterologist, gynecologist, endocrinologist, pulmonologist, urologist, dermatologist, or other specialist); or
  • failed to consider your medical or family history.

Denying a patient the benefit of well-established screening and testing protocols constitutes gross medical malpractice in many cases. We rely upon some of the world’s foremost medical experts to thoroughly review and investigate your case, and our proven track record of success in this field proves that our approach works. We have sought out and obtained justice for individuals who could have and should have had their cancer discovered earlier, at a time when it was treatable. Visit our recent results page to see a few examples of the results we’ve obtained for our clients.

We know that a fatal or debilitating cancer, that could have been diagnosed earlier, can have a devastating effect on a person and his/her family. If you or a loved one has been injured by this sort of medical malpractice, you may be entitled to compensation for damages including:

  • Past & future loss of income or earning capacity
  • Past & future medical expenses
  • Rehabilitation and physical therapy
  • Physical and/or mental impairment
  • Disfigurement
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of spousal services
  • Wrongful death

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, and your prognosis is poor or you have lost the opportunity to benefit from available treatments because your cancer was not diagnosed earlier, call Porter Nordby Howe LLP at 888-477-7731, or email us at

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