The Seriousness of Undiagnosed Cancer and How it’s Defensible

Jul 20, 2021 — by Robert Gittleman Law Firm, PLC
Tags: Undiagnosed Oral Cancer

digital illustration of a cancer cellLike any other cancer, oral cancer becomes more difficult to treat as it progresses. Unfortunately, oral cancer is often diagnosed at stage three or stage four of the disease, when treatment is more difficult. The best way to identify (and treat) oral cancer early on is through an oral cancer screening, which should take place at a routine dental exam.

If a dentist’s failure to diagnose oral cancer leads to medical and financial damages, a patient may make a medical malpractice claim. Failure to diagnose oral cancer is very serious, but dental malpractice claims can be defended. Here, Farmington, MI, attorney Robert Gittlemen discusses how dentists may defend themselves from legal action after they miss a cancer diagnosis.

Consequences of a Missed Oral Cancer Diagnosis

A missed oral cancer diagnosis carries many potential consequences. Most importantly, the cancer can spread and progress to more advanced stages. As cancer reaches advanced stages, it becomes more difficult to treat. Death is a real risk of undiagnosed oral cancer. The American Society of Clinical Oncology reports that the overall five-year survival rate for oral cancer is 66 percent, but when oral cancer is diagnosed in its early stages the five year survival rate jumps to 85 percent.

Besides the clear health consequences of a delayed or missed cancer diagnosis, there are other damages to consider, such as:

  • More costly and complicated medical treatment
  • Longer treatment timeline
  • Extended pain or discomfort
  • Lost wages due to time off work

Why Might Oral Cancer Be Missed?

Dentists are supposed to perform a thorough oral cancer screening with each dental exam. A visual screening is meant to look for any potential signs of oral cancer, which may include sores, inflamed or discolored tissues, or canker sores. Although these wounds could be the result of other conditions, dentists should assume they are cancer until proven otherwise. Any sores or lesions should be re-examined in 15 days. If they have not healed in that time, patients should be referred to a specialist.

Despite these guidelines, oral cancer is often missed. Common reasons for a missed oral cancer diagnosis include:

  • Small lesions that are difficult to see with the naked eye
  • Patient failure to schedule routine dental exams on the recommended biannual schedule
  • Neglecting follow-up care or failing to refer a patient to a specialist
  • Patient failure to seek recommended care with a specialist 

Defending Against Dental Malpractice Claims

Dental malpractice is a common cause of missed oral cancer diagnosis. However, not all dentists are to blame when oral cancer is missed. To defend against dental malpractice claims a dentist must prove that they met the standard of care, which is the type of care that a patient could expect from another expert in the field.

Dentists in the Farmington area can work with Robert Gittleman to gather evidence that shows the standard of care was met. Potential sources of defensive evidence are: 

  • Copies of office procedures for oral cancer screenings
  • Patient files showing oral cancer screening results
  • Documentation (of recommended follow-up care, patient referrals, doctor/patient communication, appointment history, broken appointments, non-compliance by the patient, etc.)

Get in Touch

Whether you are a patient who has suffered the consequences of a missed oral cancer diagnosis, or a dentist accused of dental malpractice, attorney Robert Gittleman can help you explore your legal options. To schedule a consultation at our Farmington law firm, contact us online or call (248) 737-3600.

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