Failure to Diagnose Leukemia

There are several different types of leukemia, or cancer of the blood-forming tissues such as bone marrow. Most leukemias begin in white blood cells, though some begin in others cells. According to the American Cancer Society, the different forms of leukemia are acute lymphocytic leukemia, which more commonly occurs in children but sometimes occurs in adults; acute myeloid leukemia, which is most often diagnosed in older adults; chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which comprises about one-third of leukemia diagnoses; chronic myeloid leukemia, which is fairly rare; and chronic myelomonocytic leukemia, which also mostly occurs in older patients. Estimates provided by the ACS suggest that in the US in 2021, doctors will diagnose approximately 61,090 cases of leukemia, while 23,660 people will lose their lives to the disease.

What Are Symptoms of Leukemia?

All leukemias involve symptoms caused by blood cell deficiencies. Many of these symptoms are not specific to leukemia: weakness, sudden and unplanned for weight loss, swelling in the lymph nodes, fatigue, feelings of nausea or faintness, respiratory issues, feverishness, headaches. In some leukemias, a shortage of white blood cells can make the patient vulnerable to various infections, and platelet shortages can result in frequent bleeding or bruising, according to the American Cancer Society.

One symptom of chronic myelomonocytic leukemia in particular is excessive monocytes, which typically result in an enlarged spleen or liver. Patients with an enlarged spleen or liver may feel pain in their abdominal region; excessive monocytes will typically also present in a blood test.

One symptom specific to a subset of acute lymphocytic leukemia is an enlarged thymus, an organ between the breastbone and the windpipe. According to the American Cancer Society, an enlarged thymus sometimes exerts pressure on the windpipe, resulting in respiratory difficulties. The thymus may also exert pressure on the superior vena cava, a major vein that transports blood around the upper body. This pressure, referred to as SVC syndrome, may result in swelling in the head and upper body, nausea, and neurological issues.

Are There Screenings For Leukemia?

Doctors currently recommend no routine screenings for leukemia. The cancer is more commonly detected when medical practitioners conduct blood tests in other contexts, and the tests reveal abnormalities.

How Is Leukemia Diagnosed?

There are numerous tests used to diagnose leukemia, with some variations depending on the type of leukemia. Generally speaking, patients will receive blood tests to evaluate their red blood cell count, white blood cell count, and platelets. Some patients may receive peripheral blood smears, blood chemistry tests, blood coagulation tests, flow cytometry, and immunohistochemistry tests. Since leukemia develops in the bone marrow, doctors will typically sample the patient's bone marrow via a bone marrow aspiration and a bone marrow biopsy. Some patients may receive chromosome testing to identify abnormalities in their chromosomes; others may receive lymph node biopsies, spinal taps, or radiological tests like x-rays, ultrasounds, MRI scans, PET scans, and CT scans.

How Do Doctors Fail to Diagnose Leukemia?

As you may have gathered, leukemia is a complex disease; diagnosing it involves similar complexity. Misdiagnosis can occur at many steps in the process—for instance, a doctor neglects to order a test that might have turned up evidence of leukemia, or fails to follow up on a test that does—or even before the process even begins. Leukemia doesn’t always present symptoms in its early stages, and its early symptoms often resemble many less serious conditions. A doctor who fails to fully take a patient’s medical history, weight their risk factors, and/or order bloodwork may end up diagnosing a patient with the common flu when in fact that patient has leukemia. Misdiagnoses like these can result in the patient initiating treatment for a disease where early, aggressive treatment is critical.

Not all misdiagnoses or delayed diagnoses constitute medical malpractice. If you or a loved one feel you are the victim of negligent failure to diagnose leukemia, the New York medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, in conjunction with our team of medical experts, will evaluate your case to determine whether you’re entitled to recover compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, loss of future earnings, and other forms of damages. Our lawyers have decades of experience holding medical practitioners accountable for their negligence as we aggressively pursue the compensation our clients deserve. Please reach out to our lawyers today to schedule a free consultation.

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