Prostate cancer develops when the cells of the prostate, a gland that produces seminal fluid, begin to grow uncontrollably. Estimates provided by the American Cancer Society predict that in the US in 2021, doctors will diagnose approximately 248,530 cases of prostate cancer, while approximately 34,130 men will lose their lives to the disease. Prostate cancer, after lung cancer, is the second most common cause of death from cancer in the US, with 1 in 41 men dying from the disease and 1 in 8 men developing it. The ACS cautions that while the condition can be serious and even fatal, the majority of men who develop it do not lose their lives to it. As with other cancers, early and accurate diagnosis is critical to positive outcomes; delayed diagnoses and misdiagnoses can cause life-changing harm.
What Are the Symptoms and Causes of Prostate Cancer?
While the causes of prostate cancer are still largely a mystery to science, it’s known that certain inherited and acquired gene mutations have been connected with the condition, as well as exposure to radiation or carcinogenic chemicals. Common risk factors for prostate cancer include age—it’s more common in men above 65—as well as geography (it’s more common in North America, Australia, the Caribbean, and northwestern European countries), family history, gene changes, and race: according to the American Cancer Society, it “develops more often in African-American men and Caribbean men of African ancestry.”
As with other cancers, prostate cancer often presents no symptoms in its early stages, and is detected at that point through preventative screenings, according to the ACS. When prostate cancer has progressed, its symptoms include blood in semen or urine; pain in the torso; pain in other regions of the body; difficulties urinating; erectile dysfunction; bladder or bowel problems; and weakness in the lower extremities. Many of these symptoms are shared with less serious conditions; a failure to rule out those more benign conditions during the differential diagnosis process is one reason doctors sometimes fail to diagnose prostate cancer.
Are There Screenings for Prostate Cancer?
The primary screening tests for prostate cancer look for something called a prostate-specific antigen, or PSA. As the American Cancer Society explains, PSA is a protein produced by cells inside the prostate gland. While it generally occurs in semen, trace amounts of PSA appear in blood. which is where some screenings look for it. Unfortunately, there are a number of non-cancer factors affecting PSA levels in the blood, and “there is no set cutoff point that can tell for sure if a man does or doesn’t have prostate cancer,” according to the ACS: while some doctors identify four nanograms per milliliter as their cutoff, others use lower levels. PSA levels below 4 ng/mL are not considered a reliable sign that cancer isn’t present; while cancer increases a patient’s PSA blood levels, so do such factors as an enlarged prostate from benign or other non-cancerous conditions, ejaculation, urologic procedures, inflammation of the prostate, various medications like male hormones, old age, and even riding a bicycle.
On the other hand, various medications or dietary supplements may have the opposite effect of lowering PSA levels even in patients who do have prostate cancer. This is why doctors trying to diagnose or rule out prostate cancer rely on a variety of PSA tests, as well as digital rectal exams, imaging tests, and biopsies. More information on the range of tests used to diagnose prostate cancer is available via the ACS.
How Do Doctors Fail to Diagnose Prostate Cancer?
As discussed, prostate cancer shares symptoms with many less serious conditions, leaving ample room for doctors to fail to diagnose it. In some instances, a doctor diagnoses the patient with an enlarged prostate after neglecting to conduct an adequate array of screenings to rule out the possibility of prostate cancer. In others, the doctor suspects prostate cancer and orders the necessary tests, but a lab technician fails to inform the doctor of these tests’ results (or incorrectly documents them on the patient’s records), so the doctor never follows up with the patient. The consequence of these failures is that the cancer is not caught until it’s progressed to a more serious stage, at which treatment may be much less effective.
Not every prostate cancer misdiagnosis constitutes medical malpractice. No test is 100% reliable, and some tests, especially blood PSA tests, are known to provide false positives that result in patients receiving treatment for cancer they don’t have. Still, the negligent failure to diagnose prostate cancer can cause very serious harm to the patient, from delayed treatment to death. If you are the victim of prostate cancer misdiagnosis, you may be entitled to recover compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and future earnings, and more. Medical malpractice cases can be very complex and require a range of medical expert witnesses to prove, but the right attorney will pursue your case aggressively while ensuring you receive the peace of mind you deserve in the meantime.
If you or a loved one have been injured due to negligent failure to diagnose prostate cancer, the New York medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan can help. Please reach out to our lawyers today to schedule a free consultation.