Failure to Diagnose Skin Cancer

Skin cancer, the most commonly diagnosed cancer, comes in a few different forms. The two most prevalent varieties of skin cancer are melanomas and basal and squamous cell skin cancers. Melanomas are less prevalent, comprising roughly one percent of all skin cancer diagnoses, but are also responsible for more deaths than other skin cancers. The American Cancer Society estimates that in the US in 2021, there will be 106,110 new melanoma diagnoses, while 7,180 people will lose their lives to the disease. The ACS does not have comparable figures for basal and squamous cell skin cancers because these figures are not tracked by cancer registries. However, the ACS notes, there are approximately 5.4 million basal and squamous cell skin cancer diagnoses in the US each year, with about 2,000 deaths each year—largely among elderly people, according to the ACS, who "may not have seen a doctor until the cancer had already grown quite large.”

While most cases of skin cancer are not life-threatening and easily treated, some forms of the disease can be fatal, especially if not detected early and treated promptly. A doctor's negligent failure to diagnose skin cancer or delayed diagnosis of skin cancer can have disastrous consequences for the patient.

What Are the Symptoms and Causes of Skin Cancer?

The common symptoms of melanoma skin cancer include abnormal moles, masses, or other changes to the skin. While moles are not in and of themselves unusual—and are in fact very common—new moles or moles whose features (color, shape, size) change should be reported to medical professionals. Doctors typically use what they call the "ABCDE" rule to examine melanomas, according to the American Cancer Society: Asymmetry asks whether the mole's two halves are unlike; Border asks whether the edges of the mole are irregular; Color asks whether the mole has non-uniform coloration, or unusual coloration; Diameter asks whether the mole's diameter exceeds 6 millimeters, though the ACS notes that melanoma skin cancers may be smaller than this diameter; and Evolving, which asks whether the melanoma's features visibly change.

Basal and squamous cell cancers, which are more common than melanomas, typically present as discolored areas that resemble scars; raised patches of skin that may cause itching; small bumps on the skin, typically "pink or red, translucent, [and] shiny," according to the American Cancer Society, but sometimes with "blue, brown, or black areas"; open skin sores that don't heal on their own, "or that heal and then come back"; and pink-colored masses on the skin "with raised edges and a lower area in their center.”

The causes of melanomas and basal and squamous cell skin cancers are not fully understood, though it's clear that one major risk factor is the exposure of skin (without protection like sunblock) to ultraviolet light, whether from the sun or other sources. Ultraviolet light can cause harm at the level of DNA by affecting the activation of oncogenes, which play a role in the creation and division of cells, or tumor suppressor genes, which mitigate cell growth and ensure cells die before they grow uncontrollably, forming tumors.

Are There Screenings for Skin Cancer?

Early detection of skin cancer is crucial to effective treatment and positive outcomes. The American Cancer Society recommends that people regularly perform self-exams of their own skin. One should examine every area of the body for unfamiliar features, or familiar features that have changed in shape or size. Any unusual features should be reported to a medical professional.

When doctors suspect an abnormality or abnormalities may be skin cancer, there are several tests they may conduct. After conducting a physical examination , they will likely take a biopsy of the region, either removing a sample of the potential tumor or the whole thing. (The American Cancer Society notes that when tumor-removal biopsies often double as a cure for basal and squamous skin cancers). They may conduct a "shave" biopsy, in which a layer of skin from the top of the abnormality is removed with a scalpel or other instrument; a "punch" biopsy, in which a deeper tissue sample is removed; an excisional biopsy, which excises the whole tumor, or an incisional biopsy, which just takes part of it. Samples are then sent to a lab for testing.

How Do Doctors Fail to Diagnose Skin Cancer?

Since the symptoms of early stage skin cancer often resemble other, less serious conditions, a misdiagnosis can have tragic outcomes for the patient. Doctors who attribute benign-seeming symptoms, like discoloration or persistent itching, to benign conditions may neglect to order the proper tests. They may neglect the possibility of cancers developing in regions of the body that aren’t exposed often to sunlight, or they may misdiagnose cancerous or pre-cancerous areas as other skin conditions. In some cases, they might misinterpret test results or fail to conduct necessary testing entirely. Generally speaking, negligent failure to diagnose skin cancer occurs when a patient’s doctor fails to uphold their duty of care in a manner that another, reasonable and skilled doctor would not have failed under similar circumstances, with this failure causing harm and damages to the patient.

Not all failures to diagnose are malpractice, but the victims of malpractice may be entitled to recover the costs of medical expenses, lost wages, lost future earnings, and more. The New York medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan have deep experience holding medical practitioners accountable for their misdiagnoses and other forms of negligence. Our legal team, supported by seasoned medical experts, will aggressively pursue the justice you deserve, while ensuring you receive needed peace of mind as your cases progresses. Please contact our team today to schedule a free consultation.

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