Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer
Photo of Philadelphia skyline

Breast Cancer

Failure to Diagnose Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of human malignancy. The cumulative lifetime probability of developing breast cancer is 12 %. Women over the age of 50 years have the highest risk of developing breast cancer.

Epidemiologic studies suggest that genetic, endocrine and environmental factors may be involved in the development and progression of breast cancer.

Genetic - Women whose relatives have or had breast cancer have an increased risk of developing breast cancer themselves. First degree relatives (siblings, parents and children) have a two-to three-fold increase in risk in developing breast cancer as compared to the rest of the general population.

Endocrine - Early age of menarche (the onset of menstrual cycle), late onset of menopause, never having borne a child, and late age at first pregnancy appear to be associated with an increased incidence of breast cancer. Prolonged use of estrogens and oral contraceptive (> ten years) may also increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

Environmental - Studies of women in Japan post-World War II indicate that the incidence of breast cancer may also increase with radiation exposure. Dietary fat intake is also thought to be related to incidence of breast cancer.

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of breast cancer are:

  • a suspicious mass;
  • nipple discharge;
  • a painful breast; and
  • a reddened breast.

Since breast cancer cannot necessarily be prevented, early diagnosis is critical. This can be accomplished through monthly breast self-examinations, regular and routine gynecological examinations and a diet rich in beta carotene (found in many green vegetables and carrots) and low in fat.

When breast cancer goes undetected by a physician the cancer is given the opportunity to advance to a more serious stage. This failure to diagnose breast cancer (as with all cancers) increases the risk of harm to the patient. The higher the stage of the cancer, the lower the cure rate. Cancers of more advanced stages have higher recurrence and mortality rates.

A patient cannot and should not sue a physician for the mere development of cancer, but a patient can bring a viable claim for the increased risk of harm resulting from the failure to diagnose and treat the cancer in a timely fashion. It is important to realize that a plaintiff alleging a failure to diagnose cancer has the same burden of proof as in any other medical malpractice lawsuit. The plaintiff must establish the following four elements:

  1. that there was a duty to timely diagnose the cancer;
  2. the breach of that duty by the physician;
  3. injury to the patient; and
  4. the injury must be causally related to the physician's breach (i.e., a more advanced stage of cancer was reached than should have been).

Once all of these elements are present, a lawsuit for failing to diagnose cancer can be brought.

This informational piece was prepared by Silverman & Fodera. If you would like more information on this topic, call us at (800) 220-LAW1, or use the "Do I Have A Case?" link on this web site.