Failure to Diagnose Cervical Cancer
Most women take their reproductive health very seriously, and that includes making annual visits to an OB/GYN. While it may be uncomfortable or inconvenient, women are willing to submit to the annual examination because they believe that doing so will keep them in good health, and most of the time, they are right.
A primary focus of an annual gynecological exam is the Pap smear. The test involves swabbing a patient’s cervix to remove a sample of cells, which are then examined for any abnormalities that might indicate cancer or a precancerous condition (cervical dysplasia).
Regular Pap smears are essential to early detection of cervical cancer or dysplasia. About 90% of women who have cervical cancer that was caught by a Pap smear will survive. By contrast, among those whose cancer is not detected until they experienced abnormal vaginal bleeding or other symptoms, only 40% survive.
When a woman holds up her end of the bargain—scheduling and submitting to regular testing as recommended by her doctor—she should expect her care providers to do their part. Yet unfortunately, in some cases, a doctor misdiagnoses or fails to diagnose the problem, allowing the cancer to progress untreated.
Types and Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
The most common type of cervical cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. Comprising about 85-90% of cervical cancers, squamous cell carcinomas begin in the part of the cervix next to the vagina, called the ectocervix.
Adenocarcinomas make up the most of the other 10-15% of cervical cancers. These begin in the endocervix, developing from the mucus-producing gland cells there. The rarest type of cervical cancer is adenosquamous carcinomas, which have some features of both squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas.
Unfortunately, for some women, the first sign of problems is not an irregular Pap smear result, but physical symptoms of cervical cancer, by which time the cancer has likely progressed. Some of these symptoms include:
- Unexplained vaginal bleeding between or after periods
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause
- Increased or unusual vaginal discharge
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse, or after a pelvic examination
- Menstrual periods that are longer or heavier than usual.
Many of these symptoms may also be present in benign or less serious conditions, but if you experience any of them, you should consult your doctor.
How Do Doctors Fail to Diagnose Cervical Cancer?
There are a number of ways in which a diagnosis of cervical cancer might get missed, at many steps in the process:
- The doctor may have incorrectly collected the sample of cervical cells.
- The tissue analysis may have been done improperly.
- The lab technician may have improperly interpreted test results.
- The technician may have failed to enter irregular test results into the patient’s chart.
- The doctor may have overlooked or failed to act upon reported test results suggesting cervical dysplasia or cancer.
Failure to diagnose cervical cancer in a timely fashion can lead to the need to remove reproductive organs or to death from the disease. These outcomes are all the more heartbreaking because they are generally preventable. Cervical cancer is usually slow-growing, meaning that if a Pap smear is conducted, analyzed, interpreted and reported properly, cancer can be stopped before it costs a woman’s fertility, health, or life.
If Your Doctor Failed to Diagnose Your Cervical Cancer
Failure to diagnose cervical cancer despite well-established medical protocols may constitute medical malpractice. A doctor owes a duty of care to a patient. If the doctor breaches that duty, and the patient suffers harm as a result, she may be entitled to compensation. Unfortunately, it is usually necessary to turn to an experienced medical malpractice attorney in order to receive it.
Filing a claim for medical malpractice is a way to hold doctors and medical facilities accountable for their negligence, and to protect other patients. It is also the best way to help make you whole after a medical professional has caused you harm. No amount of money can make up for the loss of your health or the ability to have children. But it can relieve the financial burden on you and your family and help you to receive the treatment you need without worrying about how you will pay for it.
The first step is to contact Huegli Fraser to schedule a consultation. We will listen to your experiences, explain the law that applies to your situation, and help you explore your options. If filing a medical malpractice claim is the right next step for you, we have the experience to advocate for you every step of the way.
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.