Colon Cancer Kills Woman After Doctor Missed It During Three Colonoscopies

Published: 09th July 2010
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Men and women with a family background of colon cancer as well as people with symptoms are at higher risk of getting colon cancer. The main procedure used by doctors to check for colon cancer when an inidividual has a family history or reports a symptom, like blood in the stool, is the colonoscopy. Using this procedure doctors can visualize the inside of the colon and search for the presence of abnormal (and possibly cancerous) growths. Besides testing patients who are at an increased risk level, physicians additionally typically advocate that asymptomatic men and women who are fifty or older undergo routine screening in order to discover any cancer that might be growing in the colon before it reaches an advanced stage.

Yet in order to be reliable a colonoscopy needs to be complete. It should cover the total span of the colon. Among the reasons why a doctor may not finish the colonoscopy is inadequate prior preparation resulting in inadequate visualization or the presence of an obstruction which makes it impossible to pass the scope beyond the area of the obstruction. If situations like these occur the doctor should inform the patient and recommend that the person either undergo an alternative procedure or a repeat colonoscopy. A failure to do so may lead to a missed cancer which could grow and progress to an advanced stage prior to being found.

This is what happened in one published claim involving a 54 year old female who passed away from metastatic colon cancer. Look at her medical history. The woman had a family history of colon cancer. During the length of six years, physicians did 3 colonospies on her. On many occasions she kept letting her doctors know that she was experiencing pain in the abdomen and that she found blood in her stool. Besides the symptoms described above, her doctors, on at least one occasion, additionally observed that she had a third symptom of colon cancer - she had anemia.

The notes from 2 of the colonoscopies highlighted that there was incomplete visualization of the ascending colon and cecum as the scope could not be passed beyond the transverse colon. Yet, the physician who carried out the three colonoscopies and followed the woman throughout this period continued telling her that her problems were as a result of hemorrhoids.

Eventually the patient went through exploratory surgery as a way to figure out the reason why she was suffering from the symptoms. The cancer was discovered during the surgery. The cancer had grown and spread so far that the patient had to have a large fraction of her intestines removed and then also needed to endure treatment with chemotherapy. Sadly, even with treatment she passed away from the cancer. Because of the physician's failure to order additional testing to determine the source of her symptoms given that there were two incomplete colonoscopies the woman's surviving family pursued a lawsuit. The law firm handled the matter was able to report that they were able to get a recovery for the family in the amount of $875,000

Doctors use diagnostic tests so as to discover or rule out certain diseases. For example, the colonoscopy is a procedure used to locate or exclude colon cancer. But the test is only as good as the accuracy with which the test was carried out. For the procedure a physician inserts a scope to see the inside of the colon so as to ascertain whether there are polyps or tumors in the colon

When the complete colon is not visualized, as in the lawsuit above, a physician cannot rely on it to exclude cancer. Doing so makes about as much sense as only listening to one of your lungs, examining only one of your eyes, or ordering only part of a complete blood count. When the patient does have cancer this may lead to a delay in diagnosis that gives the cancer time to grow and advance to an incurable stage. In a situation like that the physician who counted on such a partial procedure might be liable under a medical malpractice or even wrongful death claim.

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