With rapid innovations in medical technology and widespread availability of cancer screening, it may come as a surprise that breast cancer remains far more common than any of us would like to think. According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 282,000 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in 2021, with over 46,000 deaths. In recent years, our Northern New Jersey medical malpractice lawyers have noticed another troubling trend: misdiagnosed or undiagnosed breast cancer. When breast cancer is misdiagnosed, the result can be life-changing or even deadly. I will tell you more about how to protect yourself in the case of misdiagnosis and when it may be in your best interest to seek legal help.
Why is Breast Cancer So Commonly Misdiagnosed?
Because there are a number of non-cancer conditions that have overlapping symptoms with breast cancer, misdiagnosis is unfortunately not unheard of. If you discover a lump in your breast, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute, there are two common things it could be aside from cancer:
- Cyst: These are benign, fluid-filled sacs. A doctor can often diagnose them via ultrasound, and they don’t require treatment.
- Fibroadenoma: This is when benign tissue forms a lump in the breast. They appear solid and require a biopsy for diagnosis. Like cysts, fibroadenomas do not require treatment.
This comes as a relief to many women, but given how common these other conditions can be, some medical professionals can be too eager to write off symptoms as something else. For example, when nurse practitioner Shote Drakeford began experiencing symptoms at the age of 25, her doctor said she was too young to have breast cancer. Now she’s 37 and living with stage 4 cancer because her doctors did not listen to her concerns.
Breast cancer can be a very treatable disease, but only if it’s diagnosed and treated early. If your physician or medical provider is negligent in their duties to correctly diagnose your symptoms, your case may be considered medical malpractice, and a Northern New Jersey medical malpractice attorney can help.
Is My Case Medical Malpractice?
It’s important to note that not all misdiagnoses constitute medical malpractice. There are four key factors for a cancer misdiagnosis case:
- Doctor-Patient Relationship: The defendant (a doctor or medical professional) must have been providing medical treatment for the plaintiff in an official capacity.
- Negligence: The plaintiff must establish that the defendant was negligent in their duty to diagnose the cancer correctly. This means that it would have been reasonable for another doctor to have correctly diagnosed the cancer. Some common ways a medical professional may be negligent include:
- Failing to order or perform proper tests
- Misreading test results
- Misidentifying symptoms
- Negligence Caused Harm: This means that the medical professional’s failure to provide a reasonable standard of care directly contributed to injury. In the case of a cancer misdiagnosis, this likely includes allowing the cancer to advance to more dangerous and difficult-to-treat stages.
- Damages: Lastly, the plaintiff must be seeking specific damages. These often include:
- Pain and suffering
- Medical bills for additional treatment
- Lost wages and/or earning capacity.
In terms of proving medical malpractice, here are four steps you can follow.
Key Aspects of New Jersey Malpractice Cases
Even if a medical professional does ultimately diagnose your cancer correctly, if it could have been diagnosed sooner, it may be considered medical malpractice. If the later diagnosis led to specific damages, it is considered a delayed diagnosis and is still eligible for a malpractice claim.
Something else to keep in mind is that In New Jersey, medical malpractice is covered under the same legal statutes as personal injury law, which means there is a two-year statute of limitations to file your medical malpractice case. However, this does not necessarily mean two-years from the medical diagnosis or treatment. Under the “discovery rule,” the plaintiff must file within two years of when they either 1) suffered harm as a result of the malpractice, or 2) could have reasonably discovered that the malpractice resulted in harm. So you may have more time to file a case than you originally thought.
Once the case is filed and the defendant responds, the plaintiff has 60 days to provide an “affidavit of merit.” In this document, another licensed medical professional with similar credentials declares that the defendant was negligent in providing a sufficient standard of care. If the affidavit is not provided, the case will be dismissed.
How can a Northern New Jersey Medical Malpractice Lawyer Help?
A breast cancer misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can lead to more invasive and expensive treatments, damage your ability to earn a living, or even result in wrongful death. At Buttafuoco & Associates, our attorneys are committed to helping you rebuild your life after a medical misdiagnosis.
If you think you may have a case, get in touch today at 1-800-NOW-HURT.