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Health screenings and missed cancer: When does it rise to malpractice?

Various health screens are available, some are helpful while others are questionable. But when does the failure to move forward with a screen rise to malpractice?

Advances in medical technology have allowed physicians to screen for a variety of diseases. Early treatment can greatly increase the chances of survival for certain cancers. This is often the case for colorectal cancer, breast cancer and cervical cancers.

Screening methods are available for these three forms of cancer that are widely used in the medical field. A recent article in U.S. News & World Report discussed the benefits of health screenings, and noted screenings are best after carefully weighing the following considerations:

  • Treatment. It is important that treatment options accepted within the medical community are available for the disease the screening test is designed to find.
  • Severity. The disease in question must have a "significant effect on the quality of life and life expectancy" in order to validate going through with a screening test.
  • Asymptomatic. There must be a period of time when the disease in question presents no symptoms.
  • Simplicity. The screening test used to find the disease must be both simple to perform and simple to interpret.
  • Cost. The screen must not be too expensive. The piece in U.S. News & World Report specifically clarified that the cost analysis refers to two separate elements: monetary and psychological, emphasizing that the psychological cost of a false positive must also be taken into consideration before moving forward with a screen.

The article used the example of ovarian cancer as a disease that fails this test. Although the survival rate of those who are initially diagnosed with ovarian cancer is much higher for those who are diagnosed in an earlier as opposed to later stage of the disease, there is controversy over whether the current tests are effective at diagnosing ovarian cancer at early stages. In addition, the presence of a false positive test generally leads to invasive surgical procedures. Overall, the risks of a screen for ovarian cancer, according to this article, outweighed the benefits of the screen.

When does a failure to diagnose lead to malpractice?

Although the failure to order certain cancer screens may not be common in the medical practice, there are situations when this occurrence can rise to medical malpractice. Generally, physicians are expected to act as a reasonably prudent doctor would in similar circumstances. If it is found that reasonably prudent physician would have ordered the screen or other test to determine if a disease like cancer was present, the physician could be liable for the progression of the disease or any other resulting injury.

Establishing this type of case requires a variety of evidence, including expert testimony. As a result, it is wise to seek the counsel of an experienced failure to diagnose lawyer. This legal professional will advocate for your rights, working to better ensure you receive the compensation you are entitled.

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