What To Do If You Suspect Medical Malpractice Concerning Breast Cancer

Malpractice Legal Advice For Victims In Maryland, DC & Virginia

According to the Physician Insurers Association of America (PIAA), located in Rockville, Maryland, of all medical mistakes that occur every year in the United States, delayed diagnosis of cancer (malignant breast tumors) is the single most frequent reason for medical malpractice lawsuits. These malpractice suits average approximately $307,000 in settlements for women who successfully sued. This is second only to medical mistakes leading to neurological impairment in newborns.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the following mammography statistics are available:

  • In a study conducted in 2007 67% of women 40 years of age and over had a mammogram within the last 2 years
  • In a 2006 study, 17 million physician offices ordered or provided mammograms to their patients
  • During 2.3 million hospital outpatient department visits, mammograms were ordered or provided.
  • Data from 2005 shows that 41,116 women succumbed to breast cancer.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentages of mammography screening varied by level of education, with women with the most years of education most likely to have had a mammogram within the last two years.

As the number of years of schooling increases, the number of women getting a mammogram increases. As an example, in 2003, 58% of women with less than a high school education received mammograms as opposed to 75% of women with some college education who received mammograms. Likewise, however, the increase in the awareness grew proportionately from 1987 from 18% of women with less than a high school education, to 38% with some college education. Thus the awareness thru media, physicians, familial and friendship has served to increase the amount of mammograms given each year. Maryland is one of 13 states with the highest percentage (79% to 85%) of breast cancer screenings.

Mammography facilities are required by the Mammography Quality Standard Act to meet uniform quality standards. In 1992 Congress passed a law assuring high-quality mammography for early breast cancer detection, leading to early treatment, a significant range of treatment options and thus resulting in an increased chance of survival. Under these guidelines, all mammography facilities must:

  • Be accredited by an FDA-approved accreditation body
  • Be certified by FDA, or it’s State, as meeting the standards
  • Undergo an annual MQSA inspection
  • Prominently display the certificate issued by the agency

Effective on April 28, 1999 the National Mammography Quality Assurance Advisory Committee developed comprehensive regulations, which apply to the following:

  • Personnel – Physicians who interpret mammograms, radiologic technologist who perform mammography, and medical physicists who survey equipment must have adequate training and experience.
  • Quality Control/Record-keeping: Each facility must have an effective quality control program and maintain certain records.
  • Medical Audit: Each facility must have a system for following up on mammograms that reveal problems, and for obtaining biopsy results.

Annual inspections are also required by FDA and State inspectors who must successfully complete a FDA training program specifically for inspection of mammography equipment.

In 2004, (the most recent statistics available according to the Centers for Disease Control), 186,772 women and 1,815 men were diagnosed with breast cancer. 40,954 women and 362 men died from breast cancer. Misdiagnosis occurs most often when a tumor goes undiagnosed, either from a misreading by the radiologist or failure to detect a cyst by the physician, to ordering the necessary tests to biopsy errors.

Breast cancer is a highly specialized disease and one better left to professionals skilled in diagnosing and treating breast cancer. Studies have found that breast cancers detected in the earliest stages offer the patient the best hope of recovery and ultimately remission.

Survival rates drop 80% for cancer from Stage I to Stage IV, leading us to the conclusion that early detection strongly influences higher survival rates. Survival rates of 100% may be expected when the cancer is discovered in its earliest stages. Therefore, a radiologist specialized in mammography has a much higher ratio of detection than one who is not specialized in mammography, as this is often one of the earliest detection points.

One study has shown that scores ranged from a low of 8% to a high of 98%, leading us to conclude that a smaller number of radiologist are not necessarily skilled as much at diagnosing breast cancer. While most mammograms are given to healthy women, it is highly recommended that a base line mammogram is available to note any changes to breast tissue.

A thorough personal and familial history should be taken by the physician as breast cancer has been found to be genetic in some individuals. Noted changes in the appearance, nipple discharge, if any and complaints of symptoms such as pain, weight loss and exhaustion may be clues to a diagnosis. A manual exam noting, any irregular mass, nipple inversion, skin discoloration, rash, or thickening of the tissue are all suspicious findings. 75% of breast cancers are associated with lumps and 75% of these are detected by routine breast self-exams.

When a lump has been detected and a biopsy is ordered this may be done by taking a portion of the entire cyst to check for cancer. Biopsies may be done by making an incision over the mass and removing the specimen. At other times if there is no palpable mass, a needle is inserted into the core of the cyst with the help of mammographic guidance. Biopsies can be difficult to read and once again, not only the biopsy, but also the reading should be done by a specialized professional as the chances are greatly increased for a correct diagnosis.

Stages of Breast Cancer

  • Stage 0 (also known as ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS) – Cancer cells are present in either the lining of a breast lobe or a duct. It has not spread to the surrounding fatty tissue.
  • Stage I – Cancer has spread from the lobules or ducts to nearby tissue in the breast. Â Breast cancer is considered invasive at this stage and beyond. Â The tumor is 2 cm or less in diameter (approximately 1 inch or less) and the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage II – The tumor can range from 2 cm to less than 5 cm in diameter (approximately 1 to 2 inches); cancer may have spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage IIIA – The tumor is 5 cm or greater in diameter (approximately 2 inches or greater); or the tumor may be of any size where cancer cells have grown extensively into the axillary (underarm) lymph nodes.

Advanced Stages of Breast Cancer

  • Stage IIIB/C – Tumor may be of any size and is known as locally advanced cancer. Â It has spread into the skin of the breast or tissues of the chest wall.
  • Stage IV – Cancer has spread from the breast to other parts of the body, such as the bones, liver, lungs, or brain and is known as metastatic.

Breast cancer can return at the same site as the original tumor or somewhere else in the body.

Recent studies have shown that taking hormone therapy for menopause for 5 years doubles the risk for breast cancer, thus revealing the most dramatic evidence yet in the link between hormone therapy and breast cancer. Breast cancer rates have plunged in recent years mostly because millions of women have educated themselves on the risks of hormone therapy and have opted not to take it. Even those women who were on therapy and stopped after 2 years reduced their chances back to normal.

While medical professionals often do their best to diagnose and treat breast cancer the risks of misdiagnosis remain. If you or a loved one feels that your cancer is the result of misdiagnosis or malpractice you owe it to yourself to contact a legal professional as soon as possible.

Next Steps...

Call and speak to one of our lawyers that handles failure to diagnose breast cancer cases at Greenberg & Bederman at 301-589-2200 or toll free 800-800-1144. You may also fill out the form below to get a free legal consultation.

The initial cancer consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to handle your failure to diagnose breast cancer malpractice case, we will work on a contingency fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary recovery of funds. A lawsuit must be filed before an applicable expiration date, known as a statute of limitations, so please call right away to ensure that you do not waive your right to possible compensation.

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