The American Cancer Society predicts that cancers of the stomach will be diagnosed in 26,560 patients in the US in 2021 and that 11,180 people will lose their lives to the disease. Stomach cancer is a relatively uncommon cancer in the US, comprising about 1.5% of new cancer diagnoses. As the ACS notes, the condition is more prevalent in adults over 65, though its incidences are declining in the US. Like many other cancers, stomach cancer often presents no symptoms in its early stages. An early, accurate diagnosis is critical to effective treatment. A misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can result in serious or even fatal consequences for the patient.
What Causes Stomach Cancer?
There is currently no known cause of stomach cancer, although the American Cancer Society describes several “pre-cancerous changes” connected with stomach cancer. One is atrophic gastritis, characterized by a deficiency in or absence of the stomach’s gland cells. Another is intestinal metaplasia, in which the stomach lining’s cells are “replaced” by cells that resemble intestinal lining. A third is dysplasia, characterized by the growth or abnormality of the stomach’s gland cells. According to the ACS, these conditions may lead to the development of cancer.
Researchers have also identified a number of risk factors associated with stomach cancer. These include diets heavy in salt; diets heavy in processed meats; diets heavy in “grilled, or charcoaled” meat; type A blood; drinking alcohol; smoking tobacco; having a condition called pernicious anemia; Epstein-Barr virus; having had stomach surgery; having certain stomach polyps and being obese or overweight.
What Are Symptoms of Stomach Cancer?
Screenings for stomach cancer are typically not conducted in the US, where it’s a relatively uncommon condition. Most stomach cancer diagnoses occur after the patient has already started experiencing symptoms. As the American Cancer Society describes, these include bloody stool, jaundice, dizziness, heartburn, feelings of fullness, vomiting, lack of appetite, sudden and unplanned-for weight loss, and pain in the abdomen. As is the case with other cancers, these symptoms are often also presented by other conditions, which makes it critical for patients to rule out stomach cancer before they arrive at diagnoses for a less serious condition.
How Do Doctors Test for Stomach Cancer?
After taking the patient’s medical history and conducting a physical exam, a doctor who suspects stomach cancer is likely to refer the patient to a stomach specialist known as a gastroenterologist. The specialist will then conduct further tests, such as an endoscopy (in which a camera is inserted into the stomach to look for potential signs of cancer), a biopsy of stomach tissue, and various radiological tests (X-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds).
How Do Doctors Fail to Diagnose Stomach Cancer?
Given that many of stomach cancer’s symptoms are shared with other, more benign conditions, a doctor’s failure to diagnose stomach cancer can result in delayed treatment for the patient, which can in turn result in more serious prognoses. Misdiagnoses can occur in many ways. In some cases, a doctor simply does not consider stomach cancer as a possible diagnosis for the patient’s symptoms, and ends up diagnosing them with a less serious condition. In others, a doctor might consider stomach cancer but fail to conduct an adequate array of testing to find evidence of the condition. The doctor might fail to refer the patient to a specialist; the specialist might conduct testing, but misinterpret the results of the tests or fail to communicate them to the patient’s physician. A lab technician might incorrectly record the results of a test, leaving the doctor unaware of irregularities.
Not all stomach cancer misdiagnoses are medical malpractice. To demonstrate that negligence occurred, the patient generally has to prove that they had a doctor-patient relationship with the medical practitioner responsible for the misdiagnosis; that the practitioner failed to uphold their duty of care to the patient; that another, reasonable and competent practitioner in similar circumstances would not have made the same failure; that the failure resulted in harm to the patient; and that the harm caused the patient to suffer damages.
Patients who can demonstrate that they are the victim of negligent failure to diagnose stomach cancer may be able to recover medical expenses, lost wages and future income, and other forms of compensatory damages. If you or a loved one have been injured due to a stomach cancer misdiagnosis, the seasoned 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.