Injuries Due to Chemotherapy Medication Errors

When you are facing something as invasive and scary as cancer, you are quite literally trusting your life and well-being to your doctor and medical care team. Suffering additional injuries due to a chemotherapy medication error can, therefore, be devastating both physically and emotionally. If you believe you or someone you love has been hurt by chemotherapy medical malpractice, you need a fierce advocate on your side.

Get in touch now to book a complimentary consultation with our skilled legal team. Discover how our expertise can support you.

What Is Chemotherapy, and How Is It Administered?

Broadly, chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells by causing damage to their DNA. Chemotherapy is administered to cancer patients in a variety of ways, types, and dosages. 

The individual goal of chemotherapy will also depend on the particular circumstances of that patient. Sometimes, the goal is to cure the cancer; other times, it relieves symptoms and prolongs life. 

Chemotherapy can be administered before surgery to shrink tumors or after surgery to lower the risk of recurrence.

What Is Chemotherapy Medical Malpractice?

In general, medical malpractice or medical negligence are terms used to describe when a doctor or healthcare provider deviates from the established standard of medical care and, as a result, injures their patient.

A medical malpractice plaintiff must prove four elements: duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages.

In the context of chemotherapy errors, medical negligence refers to an oncology healthcare provider that breaches their duty or standard of care when administering chemotherapy drugs to patients. 

If that breach causes harm to the patient, the oncologist professional may be liable for damages. 

Administration of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can be administered in several ways. Some patients receive their chemotherapy by intravenous (IV) in the hospital or outpatient facility. Some patients may obtain it through an oral drug at home.

Examples of chemotherapy administration include the following:

  • Intravenous;
  • Oral pills, liquid, or tablets;
  • Intramuscular or subcutaneous injection;
  • Topical cream or ointment;
  • Implantable chemotherapy device;
  • Intrathecal directly into the spinal cord or subarachnoid space; and
  • Intra-arterial administered into an artery that supplies blood to the tumor.

Each method comes with its advantages and disadvantages, risks and benefits. Your oncology team will recommend what they think is the most likely to succeed for your case.

Errors in Chemotherapy Administration and Prescribing

Chemotherapy errors can occur in several ways at different stages of its use. For instance, errors can appear when prescribing chemotherapy or in its administration.

According to a National Library of Medicine study, chemotherapy errors occur at a rate of about one to four per 1000 orders, affect at least 1–3% of adult and pediatric oncology patients, and occur at all stages of the medication use process.

Examples of chemotherapy errors include the following:

Administration Error

Chemotherapy administration errors are more common than you might think. It happens during the administration of the drug to the patient. These errors can be at the hands of the doctor, nurse, technician, or any provider that contacts the patient during the administration process. For instance, if the drug is administered too fast or administered using the wrong method (e.g., intravenous vs. oral), it can lead to severe harm and even death. 

Prescribing Error

Another prevalent form of chemotherapy error occurs in the prescription phase. If your doctor prescribes the wrong type of drug, the wrong dose, or fails to check for possible drug interactions, it can lead to devastating side effects and consequences.

Incorrect Dose

Administering the incorrect dose because of a calculation or physical human error can be serious. If too little or too much of the drug is administered, the patient can suffer significantly. If too much is given, it can lead to drug toxicity, severe injury, and even death. If too little, they might not be strong enough to kill the cancer cells, allowing for its spread. 

Administering Chemotherapy When It Is Not Appropriate

Because of its potency and potential for severe side effects, there are strict guidelines that healthcare professionals are to follow when deciding to recommend chemotherapy to cancer patients. For instance, if the patient is too ill, chemotherapy may not be an appropriate treatment. If it is given anyway, it may cause more harm than good. 

In a 2021 study, prescription errors were the most common type of chemotherapy error, followed by administration errors and dispensing errors.

Prescribing and Administering Chemotherapy After Misdiagnosis

Although probably the least prevalent type of chemotherapy medication error, occasionally chemotherapy is prescribed and administered to a patient misdiagnosed with cancer. In other words, the patient does not have cancer and is unnecessarily given the treatment. 

Common Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cytotoxic drug meant to kill cancer cells, but because of its potency, it can have many side effects ranging from mild to severe.

Unfortunately, while chemotherapy is effective at killing cancer cells, it also kills other healthy cells, potentially causing a wide range of side effects. 

Common side effects due to chemotherapy administration include the following:

  • Nausea,
  • Vomiting,
  • Diarrhea or constipation,
  • Weakened immune system,
  • Weight loss or gain,
  • Dehydration,
  • Increased susceptibility to bruising and bleeding,
  • Changes in taste and smell,
  • Infertility,
  • Hair loss,
  • Difficulty sleeping,
  • Mouth sores,
  • Organ toxicity,
  • Pain,
  • Hot flashes,
  • Sexual dysfunction,
  • Cognitive changes or impairment, and
  • Fatigue.

As long as this list is, it is not exhaustive, and you can experience many other adverse side effects as a result of chemotherapy treatment. Depending on the side effects you are experiencing, your doctor can help you manage those negative symptoms.

Complications Due to Medical Malpractice

Unfortunately, complications from the improper administration or prescribing of chemotherapy happen. Examples can include the following:

  • Infection,
  • Bone marrow toxicity,
  • Irreversible neuropathy,
  • Irreversible organ damage,
  • Diarrhea,
  • Hospitalization, 
  • Infertility and sterilization,
  • Anxiety and depression from financial and emotional distress and
  • Death.

Complications from chemotherapy can lead to increased health concerns beyond physical ailments, including severe emotional and mental harm. 

New Jersey Medication Errors Attorneys

At O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, our medical malpractice attorneys have been named to the Super Lawyers, Top 100 Trial Lawyers, and Best Law Firms lists, among many other awards and accolades. Cancer patients injured by chemotherapy errors deserve justice and compensation for the harm they suffered. Contact us today to schedule a free compassionate consultation with our experienced team of lawyers and find out how we can help.

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