Linking a Delayed or Misdiagnosis of Colon Cancer to Medical Malpractice
Most patients try hard to accurately describe all their health concerns during every medical appointment. This holds true whether it takes place in an office or via a telehealth platform. In fact, many patients often make a list of all their current symptoms prior to such visits, in hopes of obtaining accurate diagnoses.
However, when doctors maintain overloaded schedules and fail to listen closely (or run the most appropriate, diagnostic tests), colon cancer can be misdiagnosed. In other cases, the correct diagnosis is so delayed that it becomes much harder to provide adequate treatment to patients.
What follows is an overview of the most common symptoms of colon cancer – a form of cancer that starts in the large intestine or colon, the final section of a person’s digestive tract. Special risk factors are shared, along with proper diagnostic and screening practices. Treatment options are also described. The fact that people under 50 are often misdiagnosed is also noted.
At the end of the article, important preventative measures are also set forth.
How many new cases of colon and rectal cancer are often reported each year?
The American Cancer Society is currently estimating that there will be the following number of new cases in the United States in 2020.
- Colon cancer: 104,610
- Rectal cancer: 43,340
When you exclude all forms of skin cancer, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer annually diagnosed in men and women. For men, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is 1 in 23. For women, the risk is quite similar: 1 in 25. Just over 52,000 people are likely to die of this cancer in 2020. Given the frequency of misdiagnosis, all patients – including those under the age of 50 — must take this form of cancer seriously and never assume it only afflicts older Americans. After all, one in ten (1 in 10) of all newly diagnosed cases of colon cancer each year involve Americans under the age of 50.
What are some of the most common symptoms of colon cancer?
- Ongoing changes in a person’s bowel movements. These can include the occurrence of constipation or diarrhea, even when observing a healthy diet. Patients should also check to see if their stool keeps changing in appearance or consistency – or if they have added problems passing stools.
- Signs of rectal bleeding or seeing blood in the stool.
- Weight loss that is unintended and occurs rather unexpectedly.
- Added weakness or fatigue, often in addition to one or more of these listed symptoms.
- The presence of abdominal discomfort that often includes gas, pain, or cramps.
While these symptoms are common, some patients do not experience any noticeable signs. This reality makes it crucial for doctors to listen carefully to all reported symptoms and to run the most useful diagnostic tests whenever possible.
All patients should keep in mind these heightened risk factors for developing colon cancer
- A personal history of polyps or a past case of colorectal cancer. Patients who have been forced to cope with either of these health issues in the past are more likely than others to develop colorectal cancer again in the future.
- Advanced age. While a significant number of younger people are diagnosed with colon cancer each year, 90% of the patients who receive this diagnosis are age 50 or older.
- Being a member of the African American race. Those belonging to this ethnic group have a higher risk of developing colon cancer than others.
- One of your blood relatives has already been diagnosed with colon cancer. If this is true, your risk is higher than that of most Americans.
- You have had recent problems with inflammatory intestinal conditions. If you have had chronic inflammatory health issues like ulcerated colitis or Crohn’s disease, you probably have a higher risk of developing colon cancer.
- You are currently overweight or obese. Extra weight nearly always heightens a person’s chances of developing colorectal forms of cancer.
- You currently smoke – or did so for many recent years. This habit greatly increases many serious health risks like cancer. Ask your doctor to recommend a useful treatment for defeating this dangerous addiction.
- You regularly eat a high-fat, low-fiber diet. Far too many Americans refuse to alter their diets, increasing their risk for colon cancer. While research studies have produced mixed results, it appears that people who eat a lot of processed (or red) meat have a higher chance of developing colon cancer.
- You fail to take part in any form of regular exercise, in keeping with your medical restrictions. Sedentary lifestyles do not provide the type of physical activity that helps keep the intestines moving food products through the body in a timely manner.
- Excessive use of alcohol. For some people, even small amounts of alcohol can raise their risk of developing colon or rectal cancer. Always drink in moderation – and never assume that any daily drinking is safe. Also, be sure to go in for a comprehensive annual physical. Finally, be honest with yourself – and your doctor – about how much you really do drink each day.
- You have diabetes. This complicated disease heightens your risk for colon cancer.
- You have inherited certain types of gene mutations or medical syndromes. Some families have a higher risk of developing colon cancer because they pass on genes for (FAP) familial adenomatous polyposis and Lynch syndrome. This latter disease is also known as HNPCC (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer). It should be noted that most colon cancers are not passed on to others through inherited genes.
- You have undergone radiation therapy while treating another form of cancer. This type of medical history involving another part of the abdomen can increase your colon cancer risk.
Screening tests for colon cancer that are usually approved by health insurance
- Your doctor performs a flexible sigmoidoscopy. This test only allows the doctor performing it to check your rectum’s inner lining and the lower section of your colon.
- A colonoscopy. This test is often referred to by physicians as the “gold standard” for diagnosing colon cancer. During this procedure, a doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube into your colon, using a colonoscope that has a light and digital camera attached to it. Your doctor will remove any polyps found so they can be examined in a lab, looking for signs of cancer. Before the day of this exam, your physician will ask you to undergo special preparations that will help empty your abdominal cavities.
- A stool DNA test. This can be quickly administered in your internist’s office as part of your annual physical. However, if you have a higher risk of developing colon cancer, this may only be used during the years when you are not due for a colonoscopy – and are not complaining of any unusual abdominal symptoms.
Depending on what is discovered during and after this test, your doctor may also run a blood test, looking for a chemical that sometimes appears when someone has colon cancer. It’s called CEA — carcinoembryonic antigen).
While there are other diagnostic tests that can help determine if you have colon cancer, they are not approved by all insurance carriers and may not be as reliable.
Common ways that doctors currently treat colon cancer
One of the first things your doctor must do is determine the current stage of your cancer — after a test has confirmed its presence. Although surgery may be necessary to determine the exact stage of your cancer, doctors may also choose to run CT scans of your abdominal and pelvic areas. It is crucial to determine the stage of cancer since that helps doctors choose the best, immediate forms of treatment.
- Surgery may be required to perform a partial colectomy – or you may need an ostomy that will help remove waste from your colon. If your cancer turns out to be quite advanced, your doctor will likely recommend surgery to remove blockages or other problems in your colon.
- Chemotherapy. If your cancer was larger than expected or has likely spread to the lymph nodes, you will probably be told to undergo chemotherapy treatments (in the form of IV infusions — or in the form of pills).
- Targeted drug therapy. This is basically designed to kill your cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy. X-rays and protons are sometimes used by doctors to kill cancer cells.
- Immunotherapy. This form of cancer treatment is normally reserved for those whose cases are rather advanced. It makes use of the cancer patient’s own immune system — by helping it more readily recognize and then fight the presence of cancer cells.
- Palliative or supportive care. Once a person’s colon cancer becomes quite advanced, special pain treatments are often necessary. Nurses and others trained in this field will try to help maximize the patient’s comfort.
Helpful ways to prevent the development of colorectal cancer
- Ask your doctor to help you create a low-fat, high-fiber diet. If you stick to this daily pattern of eating, you should not only feel better – you can also lower your chances of developing colorectal cancer. This diet normally involves eating plenty of whole grain foods, fruits, vegetables, and antioxidants.
- Get some exercise – even if you need to do so while sitting down. There are some excellent workout videos for those who must exercise in a gentle manner. If your doctor says you can take part in group exercise activities, be sure to sign up.
- Avoid drinking and smoking. If you believe you must drink a little, speak to your doctor about this and hold yourself to just one drink a day.
- Take appropriate vitamins, based on your doctor’s suggestions. Some cancer groups recommend taking a multivitamin with folate – and an adequate amount of Vitamin D and calcium.
- Limit your intake of red meat. This means just eating small amount of hamburger, steak, pork, bacon, bologna, and sausage.
If you (or a loved one) have suffered serious harm due to a doctor failing to make a timely diagnosis of colon cancer, be sure to immediately contact our New York City colon cancer law firm. We will carefully investigate the facts of your case and then fight hard to win the maximum compensation available. We want every client to fully recover for all their lost wages, pain and suffering, medical expenses, and other losses.