Unfortunately it’s an inevitability that cancer will touch our lives at some point or other. The NHS actually has a very good reputation in dealing with this nasty disease and the care given is very well regarded. But sometimes mistakes are made, diagnoses are wrong or are delayed. When you’re dealing with something as deadly as cancer, mistakes like those can have huge and sometimes fatal repercussions.
The human body is made up of hundreds of different cell types, all of which behave differently. Cancer occurs when a tiny part of a cell’s mechanism goes wrong. This means that every single part of our body is susceptible to the disease but obviously following a healthy lifestyle can reduce the chances of anything developing. Genetics also play a part in who does and doesn’t get cancer. The good news is that being diagnosed with it these days is not the immediate death sentence it once was. Great strides have been made in medical research and techniques and the survival rate is now much better. But there will always be patients for whom no amount of chemo or radiotherapy is going to help and for whom a terminal outcome is the only conclusion. And that’s often because a proper diagnosis and the correct treatment came too late. That’s why it’s crucial that medical professionals are swift and decisive in dealing with cancer.
Here are the most common types:
- Lung cancer
- Skin cancer
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Rectal cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Lymphoma cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Uterine cancer
- Oesophageal cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Thyroid cancer
And these are the three main areas of medical negligence in terms of cancer care:
Some patients are diagnosed with cancer when they don’t even have it. This can lead to them enduring tough sessions of debilitating treatments like chemotherapy when it’s not actually necessary. Patients can also be diagnosed with the wrong type of cancer.
Delay in diagnosis
A delayed referral to a specialist or delays in carrying out a biopsy can have catastrophic results. Anything to do with cancer needs to be dealt with speedily.
Failure to diagnose
This is missing the tell-tale signs of cancer altogether.
Medical mistakes generally happen when dealing with x-rays and scans, medical reports and records, the prescription of wrong drugs and errors on the surgical table. Incorrect treatment and a failure to monitor ongoing treatment can also be grounds for a compensation claim.
Let’s take a look at some of the different treatment options available to patients receiving cancer care and how they can go wrong and be branded as medical negligence:
Biological and Targeted Therapies
These therapies are used to stimulate the immune system, control the growth of cancer cells or overcome the side effects of treatment. They go by names like monoclonal antibodies, cancer growth inhibitors and angiogenesis inhibitors. The side effects you’ll get from any of these will largely depend on whatever kind of drugs you’ve been prescribed at the time. Some may cause mild, flu-like symptoms but, if not monitored or prescribed properly, severe and occasionally dangerous reactions have been known to happen.
These work by altering the production or activity of certain hormones in the body. They’re often employed in the treatment of breast and prostate cancer. With women, the more extreme side effects can include digestive system issues, memory problems and blood clots while with men, we could be looking at erectile dysfunction, pain, bone changes and an increased risk of heart attack.
Stem Cell and Bone Marrow Transplants
The medical terms for this approach are allogenic transplant or allograft. The transplant of donor stem cells is used to treat cancers like lymphoma, leukaemia and myeloma. Of course being a surgical approach, there’s always the risk of infection. Anaemia is also one of the more unwelcome side effects.
Surgery means the cancer is literally cut out of the body and is indeed one of the main treatments for the disease. Naturally the type of cancer has a huge bearing on whether surgery is an option. For example, pancreatic cancer tends to infuse the whole body while breast cancer can be much more localised. Medical negligence can be detected here if infection strikes, there is prolonged pain, swelling or bruising around the area that was operated on, bleeding or organ dysfunction.
When most people think of cancer care, they think of chemo as it’s a very commonplace treatment. The chemotherapy drugs work by stopping the cancerous cells from reproducing. They’re carried in the blood so they attack the cancer wherever it happens to be. There are a number of different chemotherapy drugs available and the treatment is all about getting the right balance of these to work against your specific type of cancer. Cleverly, they only target cancerous cells, leaving the healthy ones to get on with their job. But because the wide variety of permutations in treatment, the side effects are really hard to categorise. Chemo side effects aren’t terribly easy to deal with and are frequently unpleasant but they tend to be quite short-lived and the benefits can’t be argued with. Chemotherapy can reduce the number of blood cells in the bone marrow. If your white blood cell number gets low, you could be more prone to infection, while if the red blood cell number goes down, you’re going to feel the effects of anaemia (tiredness, lack of energy, breathlessness, occasional dizziness). Red blood cells carry haemoglobin so if their numbers go down so too does the amount of haemoglobin in your body, at which point you might conceivably be offered a blood transfusion. All these have to be closely monitored and should be part of your ongoing cancer care. Other lesser side effects can include hair loss, a general feeling of nausea and vomiting, constipation or diarrhoea, loss of appetite and a change in taste and hearing.
Most people who get cancer will have radiotherapy as part of their treatment. It can be given either externally using high energy x-rays or internally from radioactive material placed within the body. It works by destroying the cancer cells in the area that’s being treated. Radiotherapy has proven to be very effective at curing quite a few cancers and it can also reduce the chances of recurrence. BUT one of the side effects that needs to be closely monitored is that it can sometimes lead to the development of secondary cancer. Infertility is another possible byproduct. Swelling on a limb or on the body can happen if the lymph nodes are damaged during treatment. Certain body parts like the oesophagus or vagina can narrow as well.
These are usually given as a complement to the main types of treatment and include the following:
- Hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy which involves giving the body extra oxygen
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses lasers or other light sources combined with light-sensitive drugs to destroy cancer cells
- Radiofrequency ablation employs radiowaves to destroy the cancerous cells by heating them up to really high temperatures
Side effects for these therapies are generally not as profound as the main types of treatment as they tend to be supplementary forms of treatment.
Dealing with cancer is an emotional time for all concerned and while the prognosis for a lot of patients can be quite optimistic, there’s no getting around the fact that a lot of the treatments can be extremely debilitating. It’s very important to have the right kind of emotional support at a time like this. Even if you’re cured or in remission, the emotional burden of taking on a compensation claim for medical negligence is going to be highly daunting. That’s why it’s crucial that you work hand in hand with solicitors who completely comprehend your current plight and your stamina levels. Because we’ve been dealing with medical negligence cases for some time now, that’s something we totally understand. If you come to Fletchers Solicitors, you’ll be dealing with a company that will pursue your goals 100% but at the same time completely deferring to how much you can deal with at any given time.
Ploughing ahead with a compensation claim following or even during cancer care is a difficult thing to imagine but if you’ve suffered a loss of income, endured unnecessary pain and suffering or built up excessive medical expenses because of a misdiagnosis or a failure to spot the correct diagnosis, then you shouldn’t be afraid to assert your claim. And we’ll be there to help you do it, in the most understanding yet pro-active way.