Medical Malpractice

Can I Sue My Doctor for Cancer Misdiagnosis?

June 21, 2021
cancer misdiagnosis with doctor

Table Of Contents


You remember the day you received that devastating diagnosis: cancer. When you heard the news, you felt despondent, and then you decided to fight. And so you fight--with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and anything else that might extend your life. But after going through all of this, you later learn you never had cancer. So now, you are considering suing for cancer misdiagnosis.

Your desire for justice is understandable. But, unfortunately, misdiagnosis causes between 40,000 and 80,000 hospital deaths per year, and up to 160,000 people face serious harm. While you sought treatment, you faced mental anguish, physical pain, and reduced ability to enjoy activities and work.

You or your loved one can never get those years back, but perhaps you can secure financial compensation from a medical malpractice claim. Here is how that process might look if you decide to pursue it.

What is Cancer Misdiagnosis?

Misdiagnosis occurs when a doctor mislabels your medical condition and places you on an improper treatment course or no treatment. It usually occurs under one of these scenarios:

  • A doctor diagnoses you with the wrong health condition
  • A doctor diagnoses you with a health condition you do not have
  • A doctor fails to detect a health condition

Cancer misdiagnosis happens under these exact scenarios. Doctors may confuse a benign condition with a cancerous one and prescribe unnecessary treatment. Or they may assume a tumor is benign when it is cancerous, causing cancer to metastasize and force aggressive treatment. There are also instances where doctors misread radiology or lab results and never detect cancer. So, you linger for years until you start feeling awful, only then to find you are in late-stage cancer.

Misdiagnosis impacts are substantial. Cancer patients may face:

  • Worsening medical condition
  • Delay in the correct diagnosis during cancer’s early stages
  • Treatments that cause injury or even death

Patients discover misdiagnosis when they realize they are not improving, so they seek a second opinion. Sometimes, this medical professional is an expert who runs more thorough tests and applies specialized knowledge. Unfortunately, once you learn of the mistake, you likely need additional treatment and may also start considering a cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit.

Common Types of Misdiagnosed Cancers

The five most misdiagnosed cancers include:

  • Lymphoma: The symptoms of lymphoma, mainly weight loss, fatigue, and night sweats, are common in less dangerous health conditions. However, it is distinguished by enlarged lymph nodes--which can still develop with cold and flu cases. As a result, many doctors assume lymphoma is an infection and prescribe antibiotics, which do not affect cancer.
  • Breast cancer: Breast cancer is under and over-diagnosed. Medical professionals may miss results on mammograms or botch biopsies. Sometimes, breast cysts and other benign conditions are mistaken for cancer, and patients face years of aggressive but unnecessary therapy.
  • Colon cancer: A colonoscopy detects and prevents colon cancer. If a doctor finds polyps on an examination, they can biopsy or remove them immediately. This procedure often keeps precancerous tumors from becoming dangerous. But if a doctor does not perform the colonoscopy correctly, they may miss the polyps, and the patient develops cancer.
  • Lung cancer: Many patients do not learn they have lung cancer until it is too late. That is due to it being slow-growing cancer that produces symptoms similar to COPS or asthma. But lung cancer becomes deadly quick: at stage 0, the survival rate is 73 to 90 percent. That drops to less than 10 percent when you reach stage IV. It shows that early detection is critical.
  • Skin cancers: Besides resembling other chronic conditions, like eczema, skin cancers often miss scrutiny in the lab. Pathologists may mishandle slides and obscure results. This risk increases if the lab employs workers with no experience handling cancer samples.

While they did not meet the top five, pancreatic and prostate cancer are also vulnerable to misdiagnosis. Diagnosing these conditions is complex, and sometimes the failure to diagnose cancer makes these conditions turn deadly quickly.

Diagnostic errors are so common that second opinions are often necessary. Even if you think your doctor is thorough and competent, it never hurts to consult with another medical professional just to be sure they assess all of your symptoms. Doing this is especially necessary if previous treatments do not work or your condition is especially chronic.

Common Causes of Cancer Misdiagnosis

There are five types of cancer misdiagnoses involved in medical malpractice cases include:

  • False positive: The most common false positive is mistaking one disease for another. While rare, a doctor may also diagnose a healthy patient with a condition they do not have. Sometimes, errors in the laboratory assign tissue samples or test results to the wrong patients, preventing a timely diagnosis.
  • False negative: Generally, a patient has cancer but is diagnosed as healthy. These situations are dangerous since patients go home thinking there is nothing wrong, while their cancer only grows and becomes worse. False negatives are common in delayed diagnosis cases.
  • Failure to identify an underlying condition: There may be underlying conditions with cancer, like an undetected tumor. If it is not addressed, cancer becomes worse, and the patient may not recover. When doctors miss this essential information, cancer treatment plans are not effective.
  • Failure to diagnose the subtype: Knowing the type of cancer is necessary for treatment. Confusing lung cancer for breast cancer, for example, may lead to the wrong kinds of treatment and prolong suffering.

You will likely detect misdiagnoses for a simple reason; you do not feel better. That often leads to second opinions and consulting with experts, who later reveal what is going wrong. Once you make that discovery, you must change your treatment plan and do what you can to recover. Meanwhile, it may be time to consider the legal angle of your case.

What is the Difference Between Malpractice and Negligence in Medical Cases?

Cancer misdiagnoses fall under malpractice and negligence theory. While they are closely related and overlap, there are subtle differences between them.

Negligence addresses conduct lacking in due care. Many careless activities fall under negligence, including car accidents, dangerous land conditions, and distributing hazardous consumer products. Anyone can be liable for negligence, including medical professionals.

Malpractice applies when the standard of care is specific to a professional. Generally, we hold doctors to a higher duty of care because of their knowledge, expertise, and daily handling of life and death matters.

Doctors can face liability under negligence if they misread tests, forget to run a biopsy, or perform the wrong surgery. But they also face malpractice because their experience and education should make those mistakes impossible. The law judges doctors on prevailing professional standards rather than a general duty of care. That expects them to make correct diagnoses and plan effective treatment.

What Kind of Compensation Can You Receive?

The compensation in medical malpractice claims is similar to other personal injury cases. Cancer misdiagnosis lawyers help plaintiffs receive:

  • Coverage for medical care expenses, including treatment bills, oncologists’ fees, and radiology costs (x-rays and CT scans), even if a doctor assigned them due to a medical error
  • Lost wages if your misdiagnosis of cancer affected your work, or diminished earning capacity if the experience left you disabled
  • Pain and suffering, including mental anguish from unnecessary or excessive treatments

Medical bills and lost wages are economic damages, meaning documentation backs them up. You can prove these losses with invoices, billing statements, and paystubs.

Non-economic damages are subjective losses. They are self-reported and may even vary between individuals. For example, you may claim stress from frequent medical treatments in this category or report the loss of enjoyment of once-cherished activities. While these losses are arguably priceless, financial compensation is the best way to address them. So, we attempt to assign a fair value to these damages so you can at least have an easier time facing your challenges.

If you are filing a wrongful death action because you lost a loved one or family member to medical negligence, you receive similar damages. However, if you or other dependents relied on your deceased loved one’s support, a medical malpractice lawsuit may also include recovery for lost future income.

Proving Malpractice In A Cancer Misdiagnosis Lawsuit

To prove medical malpractice in cancer misdiagnosis cases, a malpractice lawyer must show:

  • There was a doctor-patient relationship
  • A typical doctor in that medical establishment and looking at your results would not have made the same diagnostic mistake (the doctor was negligent); and
  • You incurred provable harm and injury.

We start your case by scheduling a free consultation where you share the details of your experience and when you discovered the mistaken diagnosis. Then, after you retain us, we request your medical records and find patterns of malpractice and negligence. Finally, we run your records by our experts for further analysis, especially when it comes to professional standards of care.

New York has a statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims. You must file a civil action two years and six months from your last day of treatment or the day you discovered the misdiagnoses. The clock starts counting down on the earlier of these two events, although other developments may shorten and lengthen this timeframe.

Many elements come into play with a cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit. Fortunately, you do not have to manage them alone. Our medical malpractice law firm can help you build a case and receive financial compensation for your cancer misdiagnosis case.