Breast cancer medical negligence claims – how do they arise?

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Many individuals seek advice to figure out if their cancer should have been diagnosed earlier, and if so, whether the delay in diagnosis constitutes medical negligence and a claim can be made.

One scenario we unfortunately see far too often is a client visiting their GP because they have found a lump in their breast, she is sent for a mammogram, which she is told is negative and that the lump is part of her breast tissue. A year later, she returns to her GP to be told that the lump was initially misdiagnosed and she now has advanced breast cancer.

Another far too common scenario involves an abnormal test result such as a suspicious mammogram or biopsy that has been missed or has been filed away with the patient’s records. The patient returns a year later to be told that they have advanced cancer.

These cases can be somewhat difficult to prove and legal causation is often the most challenging aspect of the claim. In other words, it is a question of had the cancer been diagnosed at an earlier date, what difference if any would it have made to the patient’s overall outcome.

It is often argued by the GP or hospital that although there was a failure to diagnose the cancer in a timely manner, the short delay has not made any difference to the patient’s outcome. In these scenarios, it is sometimes possible to argue whether with an earlier diagnosis, chemotherapy, mastectomy or other treatments that may have caused the client to suffer could have been avoided.

A survey from Breast Cancer Now identified that four in ten women felt their symptoms were not taken seriously before being diagnosed. The NICE guidelines indicate that patients suspected with breast cancer are referred for a ‘triple assessment’ in a single hospital visit to ensure earlier diagnosis.

The ‘triple assessment’ is currently a combination of three tests including a clinical examination, radiological imaging and pathology. However, we regularly see that although the diagnosis of breast cancer is suggested after a clinical examination, the degree of suspicion is variable and can be difficult to interpret in the initial stages, which again can cause problems in terms of identifying any negligent care.

Around 55,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year making it the most common type of cancer in the UK. Despite significant improvements in prevention and cure over the last 40 years, there are still around 11,500 deaths as a result of breast cancer every year. Both the number of deaths and cases we see indicate that GPs and health providers should have better access to the right diagnostic tools to ensure a timely diagnosis and better outcome.

If you have any concerns regarding the treatment you have received, please do not hesitate to seek advice from our medical negligence team who will be more than happy to help you.





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