Thyroid cancer is the mutation and uncontrolled growth of cells in the thyroid, a gland that produces hormones affecting metabolic processes. According to the American Cancer Society, there will be approximately 44,280 thyroid cancer diagnoses in the US in 2021, and approximately 2,200 people will lose their lives to the disease. The ACS notes that thyroid cancer is diagnosed in young people more commonly than other cancers are, and it’s three times more likely to be diagnosed in women than in men. An early diagnosis is critical to effective treatment; a delayed diagnosis or failure to diagnose thyroid cancer can cause the patient serious harm and even death.
What Are the Causes and Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer?
As with many other cancers, the causes of thyroid cancer are still largely unknown. Researchers understand that genetic mutations can result in cancer, and certain DNA mutations—such as in the RET, BRAF, RAS, and TP53 genes—with different types of thyroid cancer. Scientists have also connected certain risk factors with the disease, for instance that it’s more common in women, who are typically diagnosed in their 40s or 50s (whereas men are typically diagnosed in their 60s and 70s); hereditary conditions like Cowden disease and Carney complex, type 1; exposure to radiation; obesity; and exposure to iodine in the diet.
Whereas many cancers present no symptoms in their early stages, thyroid cancer is relatively easy to detect early. As the American Cancer Society notes, symptoms like lumps or other masses in the neck are symptoms often detected during routine physicals or when otherwise reported by patients. Other symptoms detailed by the ACS include hoarseness of the throat, vocal changes, neck pain, ear pain, difficulties swallowing or breathing, or a cough that doesn’t appear to be associated with a common cold. A failure to diagnose thyroid cancer when these symptoms present may constitute medical malpractice.
Are There Screenings for Thyroid Cancer?
Thyroid cancer is commonly diagnosed during routine checkups or during a medical visit to examine other early symptoms. In addition to a physical exam and collection of personal and family histories, use a number of tests to identify thyroid cancers. These include imaging tests like ultrasounds, radioiodine scans, chest x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, and PET scans. When doctors identify lumps, nodules, or other masses that they suspect may be tumors, they take a biopsy of the area and send it to a lab for testing.
How Do Doctors Fail to Diagnose Thyroid Cancer?
Like other cancers, many of thyroid cancer’s symptoms are presented by other condition. Doctors who fail to undertake adequate diagnostic procedures may misdiagnose their patient’s cancer as something less serious, delaying critical treatment as the cancer spreads undetected. Misdiagnosis can happen in many ways. Sometimes a doctor fails to take their patient’s full medical history and misses risk factors that might have led them to test for thyroid cancer. In other cases they might order a test, but fail to follow up on the results. Not all failures to diagnose thyroid cancer are medical malpractice. Generally speaking, malpractice occurs when a doctor fails to uphold their duty of care to the patient in a way that another, reasonably skilled and competent doctor would not have failed under the same circumstances, resulting in harm and damages to the patient. The victims of negligent misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis may be able to recover significant damages.
If you or a loved one have been are the victim of a failure to diagnose thyroid cancer, the New York medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan can help. Our team of attorneys and medical experts have decades of experience holding medical practitioners accountable for their negligence and ensuring our clients receive needed peace of mind as their cases progress. Please reach out to our lawyers today to schedule a free consultation.