In recent years, the mortality rate (i.e., the number of deaths) for many cancers has declined. Skin cancer is the exception to this trend: death from skin cancer is actually on the rise. This is despite improved treatment options, and greater public awareness. The problem? The failure to diagnose skin cancer by inexperienced primary care physicians.
Accurate, early diagnosis is absolutely key in skin cancer treatment. The American Cancer Society has published data showing that when a patient has a small, localized cancerous lesion, there is a five-year survival rate of 98 percent. But as these lesions grow, and a malignant melanoma metastasizes, this prognosis strongly decreases. By the time the cancer has spread to the victim’s bones or organs, the survival rate is only 15 percent. Thus, the failure to diagnose skin cancer early, often a result of medical malpractice, can lead to the patient’s death.
Skin Cancer Incidence
Skin cancer is the single most common form of cancer in the United States, with roughly 1 million Americans diagnosed with skin cancer annually.
There are two principal types of skin cancer: melanoma and non-melanoma. Non-melanoma skin cancers are further divided into basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. Although only about 60,000 of the 1 million skin cancer cases in America each year are melanoma, this type of skin cancer accounts for a widely disproportionate number of skin cancer deaths.
Skin cancer can be treated in various ways. First and foremost, the cancerous growth can be removed, through non-surgical excision or through surgery. For non-melanoma carcinomas, treatment can also include radiation or chemotherapy, either in the traditional fashion or administered topically, to only the affected area. With melanomas, treatment can include interferon, but radiation and chemotherapy generally cannot cure the cancer (although they may be able to delay its growth or spread).
Early Diagnosis is Key
So, what can be done to ensure that skin cancer is caught early enough for treatment?
Patients can help themselves by performing regular self-screening. Individuals should become familiar with the appearance of their skin, so that they can notice any changes, and can help their physician to catch any cancerous growths early.
And, as with many other cancers, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is particularly true for those with skin cancer risk factors, such as a family or personal history of skin cancer, fair skin and/or freckles, Irish background, or outdoor jobs. These individuals should always wear sunscreen or UV-protected clothing, stay out of the sun whenever possible, and begin consistent self-screening at an early age.
These steps can help you to avoid becoming the victim of medical malpractice. But they do not relieve physicians of their responsibility to live up to the standard of care in diagnosing skin cancer early. Doctors absolutely must recommend further testing for any patient whose symptoms suggest even the slight possibility of skin cancer.
Although skin cancer can, on rare occasions, be symptomless, the symptoms of skin cancer include:
- A new growth, particularly a mole or a pale bump
- Changes to existing moles
- A raised red bump
- A scaly, irritated patch of skin with a reddish hue
- Irregular growths (moles or other growths which are asymmetrical)
- Bleeding of moles or raised areas on the skin
Skin Cancer Medical Malpractice
The most common form of medical malpractice involves the failure of dermatologists, pathologists, internists and other doctors to diagnose skin cancer given the patient’s symptoms. Other examples of medical negligence include the failure to send a patient for additional testing, including pathology or a dermatology consult, which results in delayed diagnosis of skin cancer. Additionally, a misdiagnosis of the type of skin cancer (mistaking a melanoma for a benign mole) is also a potential form of medical malpractice.
If you have any of the symptoms of skin cancer, or concerns about any growth on your skin, you should see a physician as soon as possible.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago cancer misdiagnosis lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.