Practice Areas

Failure to Diagnose Lung cancer

The most common cause of cancer-related death in men and women is lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, medical experts estimate that 221,000 new lung cancer cases will be diagnosed this year in the United States and foresee 158,000 deaths attributable to this disease. The two main types of lung cancer are small cell lung cancers (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC), as distinguished by the appearance of tumor cells on a microscopic level. SCLC are observable in approximately 15% of lung cancer cases and have the highest incidence among cigarette smokers. SCLC proliferate rapidly and usually spread beyond the lungs before detection. SCLC can be treated with chemotherapy. NSCLC occurs more frequently and is observable in approximately 90% of lung cancer cases. This broad category is further divided into the subgroups of adenocarcinomas; which constitute the majority of NSCLC cases, are commonly observed in women, and are found equally in smokers and non-smokers; squamous cell carcinomas, which originate in the lung’s central bronchi, spread slowly and are usually contained within the lung; and large cell carcinomas, which constitute the fewest NSCLC cases.

Inhalation of tobacco and the ingestion of carcinogenic chemicals through cigarette smoking are the leading causes of lung cancer, accounting for approximately 90% of lung cancer cases. A habitual smoker who finishes one pack of cigarettes daily is 25 times more likely to develop lung cancer than a non-smoker. Second-hand smoking also poses a significant risk for the development of lung cancer. Approximately 3,000 victims of second-hand smoking succumb to lung cancer annually in the United States. In addition, approximately 15,000 to 22,000 annual deaths due to lung cancer result from exposure to radon gas. Radon gas is emitted by uranium that decays in the soil, and it may seep into one’s home through cracks, pipes and drains. There is also a genetic predisposition for developing lung cancer. Those whose relatives had the disease are more likely to get it than those whose family members were never affected.
Patients with lung cancer typically do not exhibit symptoms at the onset of the disease. In fact, 25% of patients will detect lung cancer accidentally and unexpectedly while undergoing x-rays for unrelated reasons. Symptoms manifest themselves as the cancer spreads through the lung, obstructs airways and spreads to other organs. Common symptoms of lung cancer that warrant further evaluation by medical professionals include:

– A persistent, deep and rattling cough
– Producing mucus tinged red with blood when coughing
– Respiratory difficulties, such as wheezing, shortness of breath, unrelenting chest pain and shallow breathing
– A hoarse or raspy voice quality
– Frequent relapse of respiratory infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis
– Inflammation of the face and neck
– Swollen lymph nodes
– Fatigue
– Weight loss for no apparent reason
– Abnormally high levels of calcium in the blood
– Jaundice, a condition characterized by yellow coloration of the eyes and skin, which may indicate that lung cancer has metastasized, or spread, to the liver
– Bone pain may represent that lung cancer that has spread to the bones
– Impaired vision, debilitation on one side of the body and seizures may suggest that lung cancer has metastasized to the bra

When patients describe typical symptoms of lung cancer, physicians initially order chest x-rays to identify abnormalities such as nodules and tumorous masses. However, abnormalities detected on an x-ray are not necessarily cancerous. For example, x-rays might indicate the presence of calcified granulomas, benign inflammations caused by past or residual respiratory infections. Physicians can request a CT scan or MRI to obtain a clearer and more detailed image of the lungs to determine the presence, size and spread of a tumor. If a suspicious-looking mass is located, pathologists will extract and analyze tumorous tissue through a biopsy. Preliminary sputum testing is performed to detect lung cancer by analyzing cells obtained from mucus emitted when coughing. Tumors within the lung can be effectively detected through bronchoscopy. Physicians thread and direct a bronchoscope, a narrow tube equipped with a camera, through the patient’s nose or mouth, down the trachea and bronchi towards the tumor. Tumor tissue is then extracted from the lung and analyzed. Thoracentesis enables physicians to analyze a fluid collection bordering the lungs for cancer cells. A tumor that is beyond the reach of a needle or bronchoscope can be extracted through an extensive operation called video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) and subsequently analyzed through a biopsy. X-rays, CT scans and biopsies should be coupled with other types of testing to determine whether the cancer is localized or metastatic. For example, mediastinoscopy determines whether cancer has spread to lymph nodes and bone scans inform whether or not cancer has metastasized to bones.

The law firm of O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble has significant experience handling medical malpractice cases involving failure to diagnose lung cancer. The detection of lung cancer in the beginning stages of the disease is paramount, as early diagnosis leads to the best prognosis and ensures optimal chances for survival and recovery. There are different scenarios in which failure to diagnose lung cancer can lead to a lawsuit. For example, a physician might be held liable in a medical malpractice claim if he fails to heed warning signs associated with lung cancer and fails to address the patient’s chief complaints by ordering diagnostic testing. A radiologist may be held liable if he fails to identify or misinterprets an abnormality depicted in an x-ray. Alternatively, a radiologist might successfully detect and report an abnormality that he finds concerning, but the physician who requested the x-ray might ignore the radiologist’s finding or fail to comprehend its grave implications. A physician can also act in a negligent manner if he fails to monitor and track the growth of an abnormality initially detected in an x-ray. Medical experts advise that solitary pulmonary nodules, which appear as small dark circles on an x-ray, should be closely monitored even if patients do not exhibit symptoms of lung cancer. Medical experts recommend periodic, follow-up testing for patients who have a high risk of developing lung cancer, and they favor annual low-dose helical CT scans over conventional x-rays. High-risk patients include those who are currently heavy smokers as well as those who ceased smoking within the past 15 years and who fall within the age range of 55 to 74. If you or a loved one has suffered due to the delayed diagnosis of lung cancer, you are entitled to file a medical malpractice claim to receive a just settlement for the harm inflicted.