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Pancreatic Cancer Misdiagnosis: Is Legal Action Possible?

Ask Our Philadelphia Cancer Misdiagnosis Attorneys

No words can shake the human spirit more profoundly than, “you have cancer.” Many patients, to say nothing of their loved ones, are immediately thrown into a tail-spin. But some malignant tumors can be excised; a lot of them respond well to treatments like chemo and radiotherapy. For hundreds of thousands of people, there’s hope.

Pancreatic cancer is different. According to the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, the disease is “still considered largely incurable,” despite recent advances in medical science. No matter the stage, the one-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer climbs no higher than 20%. The five-year survival rate is 6%. For an estimated 40,500 patients every year, the words “you have pancreatic cancer” are a death sentence.

If you or someone you love suffered harm because of a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, the Philadelphia cancer misdiagnosis attorneys at Marciano & MacAvoy, P.C. are here to help. Call (215) 608-2183 to learn more.

How Common Is Pancreatic Cancer Misdiagnosis?

That was the result of Dr. Douglas Swords’ study, which looked at the rate of misdiagnosis among patients in Salt Lake City. Swords, a surgery resident at the University of Utah, reviewed the records of 313 pancreatic cancer patients, finding that a staggering 31.3% had received incorrect diagnoses.

Apparently, some of these patients had even received more than one wrong diagnosis. While 98 total patients had been misdiagnosed, Swords reported 119 diagnoses other than pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic Cancer Often Mistaken For Other Conditions

Here are the top 3 conditions physicians mistook for pancreatic cancer:

  1. Gallbladder disease – 38 patients
  2. Gastroesophageal reflux (or “acid reflux”) disease – 15 patients
  3. Peptic ulcer disease – 11 patients

An initial misdiagnosis, Swords wrote, delayed an accurate cancer diagnosis by an average of 3.5 months. While that may not sound long, the surgeon found that patients who had been misdiagnosed were around 40% more likely to have an advanced stage cancer at the time of diagnosis.

Even more immediate ramifications of a misdiagnosis were also observed. For example, 15 out of the 38 patients who were misdiagnosed with gallbladder disease underwent a cholecystectomy, a completely unnecessary surgery to remove the gallbladder.

Who Gets Misdiagnosed?

In his study, Swords found that symptoms and age had a huge impact on how likely a patient was to be misdiagnosed.

Is Age, A Major Risk Factor, Also A Major Stumbling Block?

Pancreatic cancer is largely tied to age, and many sources report that age is the primary risk factor for developing the disease. That’s certainly true; more than 97% of patients are diagnosed after reaching the age of 55. Nearly 30% are diagnosed between the ages of 75 and 84, and 72 is the median age at which patients are diagnosed, according to statistics maintained by Pancreatic Cancer Action.

But at least in Swords’ report, this intimate connection between age and pancreatic cancer seemed to “blind” diagnosing physicians to even the possibility that a younger patient could have the disease. Misdiagnosed patients were, on average, five years younger than those patients who were accurately diagnosed from the start.

Are Symptoms Any Guide?

Symptoms played another huge role in misdiagnosis. Patients who had been misdiagnosed were more likely to have presented with:

  • abdominal pain (85% vs. 60%)
  • weight loss (85% vs. 75%)
  • nausea and vomiting (50% vs. 40%)

Of course, symptoms come in handy for diagnostic purposes. And true to form, patients who were misdiagnosed rarely exhibited jaundice, a classic indicator of pancreatic cancer. It’s likely, then, that only a specific combination of symptoms tipped doctors off to the disease’s presence, while symptoms in isolation, no matter how common among people with pancreatic cancer, flew under the radar.

Do I Have a Misdiagnosed Pancreatic Cancer Lawsuit?

But the moment of diagnosis can be just as terrifying as the road ahead. Especially when that moment has come too late, when a tumor has already progressed to Stage IV and begun strangling the liver or lungs.

Given the terrible nature of pancreatic cancer, it’s almost perverse how frequently the condition is misdiagnosed. A recent study found that nearly one in three patients with a pancreas tumor were first told they’re symptoms arose from a benign condition. That’s 16,320 people every year, left to suffer from debilitating symptoms and prescribed ineffective drugs.

Some of these patients are the victims of medical negligence, although few know it. Pancreatic cancer makes it hard to know; the disease rarely presents symptoms until having metastasized beyond the point of surgery. But misdiagnoses shouldn’t be ignored.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

Every cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit comes down to a basic ethical consideration: there’s a right method for catching the disease and a wrong method. We should be able to expect that our doctors, along with the imaging technicians and pathologists behind the scenes, are well-versed in the right method and stick with it for every patient. In matters of law, we call this correct method the “standard of care.” When medical professionals deviate from the standard of care, harming a patient, they can be held liable for medical negligence.

Since cancer is such a complex, and ever-changing, area of research, our Philadelphia cancer malpractice lawyers rely on expert opinions to define an appropriate standard of care in each case.

However, there are several fundamental concerns any medical professional should mind; every doctor owes their patients that much:

  • Your symptoms should be taken seriously
  • None of your concerns should be dismissed
  • Doctors have to explore multiple potential diagnoses
  • Technicians and pathologists should try their utmost to avoid making mistakes

Time after time, we see these principles violated. When ethical lapses cause real harm, we believe no patient or family should be left without the support a medical malpractice lawsuit can bring.

A Fatal “Mimic”: Pancreatic Cancer & its Impostors

Misdiagnoses rates are so high for pancreatic cancer because its symptoms, when they appear, are “nonspecific” and easily confused with benign conditions.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer:

  • Jaundice; a yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Lost appetite
  • Abdominal pain; often radiates to the back
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Blood clots

What They’re Mistaken for:

  • Gallbladder disease
  • Celiac disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Pancreatic pseudocyst; a benign abdominal mass
  • Biliary stricture; a common complication after surgery on bile ducts

Physicians have a wealth of diagnostic techniques at their disposal; imaging and blood tests are crucial in ruling out possible diagnoses and getting to the core of a patient’s illness. Were you afforded that care, or were your early warning signs chalked up to a benign condition? In many doctors’ minds, benign simply means “easier to treat.”

Were Your Risk Factors Considered?

While the field of medicine has become increasingly specialized over the decades, doctors are still tasked with treating the whole person. This means a holistic approach is key; physicians should evaluate the totality of their patients’ activities and environment, rather than rely on a single CT scan or ultrasound. It turns out this integrated method can be highly effective in distinguishing between a malignant tumor and something like gallbladder disease.

Certain risk factors greatly increase the likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer:

  • Smoking: Pancreatic cancer is twice as likely in smokers as non-smokers. Up to 30% of exocrine malignancies are thought to be directly caused by tobacco use.
  • Obesity: Being obese can increase your risk of pancreatic cancer by as much as 20%. People who carry extra weight around the belly, but don’t seem “overweight,” may still be at risk.
  • Occupational Exposure to Toxins: Many workplace toxins increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. Pesticides and dyes spur abnormal cell growth. People in metal refining may be at the highest risk.

Pancreatic cancer misdiagnoses seem to be most likely for young patients, since many doctors think of cancer only as an “old person’s disease.”

Why Should I File a Cancer Misdiagnosis Lawsuit?

Why should you take legal action? Because you or your loved one deserved better care. Because families need to know the truth, before it’s too late. Because crippling pain and emotional trauma must be taken seriously. Every month lost to an ineffective treatment is a lifetime of agony for patients and their families. Every day spent worrying about tomorrow is a stolen opportunity to live in the present.

At Marciano & MacAvoy, P.C., we help patients and their loved ones begin preparing for the future now. Over decades of legal experience, our Philadelphia cancer misdiagnosis attorneys have guided hundreds of people who were misdiagnosed to successful resolutions. Our past verdicts and settlements speak for themselves.

It’s time your voice was heard. Call (215) 608-2183 today for a free consultation.

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At Marciano & MacAvoy, P.C. we understand the emotions, concerns, and anger you may be experiencing as a result of having your life turned upside down by a serious injury to you or a loved one. Whether this injury came in the form of an auto accident or resulted from medical malpractice, we are here to help you get through this and begin the recovery process. Trust us with your case and we will not let you down.

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