The medical and financial impact of delayed cancer diagnosis
September 26, 2019
Cancer is a progressive disease, which means it gets worse over time. Cancer cells usually develop slowly at first, but it is not uncommon for cancer to spread quickly once it begins to metastasize or attach to other parts of the body than the place where it originally formed.
To better understand the prognosis for individual patients and help people better understand what is happening to their bodies, doctors break cancer down into four clinical stages. Both Stage I and II are considered early stages, meaning that they offer patients more options for treatments and generally provide a better prognosis.
Stages III and IV are late-stage cancer, with Stage IV often offering patients the direst prognosis. Ideally, people will receive a diagnosis for their cancer while it is still in either Stage I or Stage II. Unfortunately, even when people have symptoms, their doctors may fail to diagnose their cancer quickly enough. That can have a direct impact on a patient’s prognosis and quality of life.
Diagnosing patients should always involve ruling out various symptoms’ causes
For certain conditions, such as viral and bacterial infections, medical professionals have a diagnostic test that allows them to confirm the presence of a pathogen, allowing for an affirmative diagnosis. Excised tissue can get biopsied, allowing laboratory professionals to identify the nature of unusual cells.
However, early diagnosis is often a process of exclusion, meaning that doctors must first attempt to rule out likely causes of the symptoms a patient reports. For example, a headache could be a symptom of an oncoming cold or simple dehydration. It could also be a sign of a brain tumor or the dangerous EEE virus that has recently been making national news.
Doctors should always do their best to rule out both the most obvious and the most pressingly dangerous diagnosis before they decide how to treat a patient. Sadly, many doctors don’t take the time to do that. They will jump to conclusions based on their own experience without performing adequate testing. In other words, they may send you home with painkillers when what you really need is an MRI.
The later you treat your cancer, the more it is probably going to cost you
In its earliest stages, cancer can sometimes respond to simple and non-invasive treatments. From gamma knife surgeries that remove entire tumors to immunotherapies that allow the body to destroy the rapidly multiplying cancer cells, there are many options available to modern cancer patients.
However, the more progressed and systemic the cancer becomes, the more likely it is that a patient will have to undergo more invasive procedures with debilitating side effects, like radiation treatment or chemotherapy. The difference between these therapies can be massive in terms of cost, recovery time and impact on a patient’s health and well-being.
If you wind up undergoing intensive chemotherapy because a doctor failed to diagnose your cancer quickly, you may have legal grounds to pursue compensation for all of the losses you and your family suffered. From wages you didn’t earn at work to the increased medical costs you had to shoulder, those expenses may wind up covered in the medical malpractice insurance claim or lawsuit.