Skin Cancer Misdiagnosis And Medical Malpractice: What You Need To Know

4 April 2016
 Categories: Law, Articles


Skin cancer is a serious health issue in the United States. In 2012, doctors diagnosed nearly 68,000 new cases of skin melanoma, and more than 9,000 people died from the condition. Early diagnosis and the right treatment can improve your chances of survival, but if a doctor or somebody else misdiagnoses the problem, the consequences are often severe for the patient. If you think a health professional has misdiagnosed your skin cancer, find out what you may need to do in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Diagnosing Skin Cancer

Patients and doctors both play an important role in skin cancer diagnosis. As the patient, it's vital that you regularly check your skin and stay alert to the early signs that may point to a problem. These symptoms can include any changes to the skin, especially new moles or existing blemishes that suddenly change shape or size. Scaly skin, bleeding, itchiness or sores that won't heal could all indicate the early signs of skin cancer.

If you report a problem to a doctor or dermatologist, he or she should carry out a thorough investigation to establish if there is an issue. A meticulous physical examination is essential, but it's not always possible to diagnose the problem in this way. As such, health professionals should normally remove a sample of suspicious skin for testing via a biopsy. What's more, if an initial biopsy finds cancerous cells, you will need further tests to diagnose the extent and severity of the problem.

The extent of the issue

Sadly, when it comes to skin cancer, misdiagnosis is a common problem in the United States. A 2004 study of 99 medical malpractice cases from 1986 to 2001 found that the plaintiff allegedly failed to correctly diagnose the disease in 54 percent of the cases. In these cases, nearly half involved situations where there was a problem with the biopsy. What's more, these misdiagnosis cases were most common with dermatologists and general practice physicians.

It's often difficult for a health practitioner to diagnose skin cancer because the symptoms can take so many forms. The shape, size and depth of skin cancers can vary considerably, and the symptoms are often similar to less serious problems like eczema, acne and psoriasis. As such, doctors or dermatologists may sometimes recommend that patients wait to see if the problem improves, but this can make it harder to subsequently treat the cancer.

A biopsy is also sometimes problematic, even if you see an expert. He or she may not take a large enough skin sample, which may mean the diagnosis is inaccurate. Experts may also misread or misunderstand the pathologist's report about the biopsy, with serious consequences for the patient.

Proving negligence

If a health professional misdiagnoses skin cancer, you may choose to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. With this type of personal injury lawsuit, you and your attorney must prove the following:

  • There was a doctor-patient relationship.
  • The doctor was negligent in some way.
  • This negligence caused your injury.
  • The injury led to damages, such as pain, medical bills and time off work.

The first requirement is seldom an issue as a doctor-patient relationship is easy to prove. However, it's often harder to prove that the doctor was negligent, especially when you allege misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis.

Diagnostic errors can still occur when a health professional follows the normal process and takes reasonable care. As such, misdiagnosis alone is not proof of negligence. To establish negligence, you must enlist an expert to show that the doctor or dermatologist did not follow the systemic method that you might expect a health professional to follow.

You will need to show that a doctor or dermatologist with similar specialties in similar circumstances would have accurately diagnosed the problem. For example, the pathologist's report may contain information that you would reasonably expect an expert in skin cancer to challenge or review in more detail. If the defendant failed to do this, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice case.

Nonetheless, as every case is different, it's important to enlist the help of a skilled medical malpractice attorney, such as those at Davidson Law Center Inc, so he or she can help you present the strongest possible case. Speak to a qualified lawyer in your area for more information and advice.