Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in New Mexico and around the country, but data from the American Lung Association reveals that only about 16% of the people who suffer from the disease receive a timely diagnosis. Doctors struggle to diagnose lung cancer because the disease often does not present any symptoms until treatment options are limited. When there are symptoms, lung cancer is often misdiagnosed as far less serious conditions like pneumonia.
Pneumonia, which can be caused by fungi, bacteria or a virus, causes fluid to build up in the lungs and makes breathing difficult. Symptoms that both lung cancer and pneumonia sufferers can present include sharp chest pains, difficulty in breathing, phlegm accumulations, persistent coughing, and fatigue. Another challenge facing doctors is that people who develop lung cancer often catch pneumonia, and the two conditions share many of the same risk factors.
When doctors suspect that a patient has pneumonia, they order X-rays to look for evidence of fluid accumulation in the lungs. The only test capable of detecting early lung cancer is a low-dose CT scan, and a biopsy must be performed to make a final diagnosis. A missed lung cancer diagnosis is extremely serious as the five-year survival rate when the disease has metastasized is less than 5%.
Missed diagnosis lawsuits
Individuals who suffer serious medical setbacks because of a missed or late diagnosis may pursue remedies by filing medical malpractice lawsuits against the negligent physicians responsible. Before initiating this kind of litigation, personal injury attorneys with experience in failure to diagnose cases may ask specialists to study the medical file to identify when mistakes were made. These experts could then be called upon to explain to juries how the treatment provided by the defendant did not meet generally accepted standards of care and directly caused the plaintiff’s losses.