People with a family history of colon cancer and individuals who have symptoms are at increased risk of developing colon cancer. The main procedure used by doctors to test for colon cancer if a patient has a family history or reports a symptom, like blood in the stool, is the colonoscopy. Using this method doctors can visualize the inside of the colon and look for the presence of abnormal (and possibly cancerous) growths. Aside from testing people who are at an increased risk level, physicians also typically suggest that asymptomatic men and women who are 50 or older undergo routine screening in an effort to spot any cancer that may be developing in the colon before it reaches an advanced stage.
But for the results of a colonoscopy to be reliable it needs to be complete. It should check out the whole length of the colon. Among the reasons that a physician might not complete the colonoscopy is poor prior preparation which makes visualization difficult or the existence of an obstruction which makes it impossible to pass the scope beyond the region of the obstruction. If situations such as these occur the doctor should inform the patient and recommend that the person either have an alternative procedure or a repeat colonoscopy. A failure to do so could result in an overlooked tumor which could metastasize before it is found.
Look at, as an example, one documented claim involving a fifty-four year old woman who died from metastatic colon cancer. The first risk factor her physicians knew about was a family history of cancer of the colon. The woman had 3 colonoscopies over six years. On numerous occasions she continued to report to her doctors that she was having pain in the abdomen and that she found blood in her stool. Besides these 2 symptoms, her physicians, on at least one occasion, additionally noted that she had a third symptom of colon cancer – she had anemia.
In this case, the physician who did the colonoscopies actually documented, with respect to two of them, that visualization was incomplete in both the ascending colon and the cecum. The doctor additionally recorded that this was the case because there was a problem in passing the scope beyond the transverse colon. However, the doctor who performed the 3 colonoscopies and followed her throughout this period continued assuring her that her symptoms were as a result of hemorrhoids.
Ultimately 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 in the course of the surgery. The cancer had grown and spread so far that the patient had to have a significant percentage of her intestines taken out and then also needed to endure treatment with chemotherapy. Sadly, even with treatment she died from the cancer. On account of the physician’s failure to follow up on her symptoms given that there were 2 incomplete colonoscopies the woman’s surviving family filed a malpractice case. The law firm that hekped the family in this case was able to report that they acheived a settlement of $ 875,000 for the family.
Doctors employ diagnostic tests as a way to find or exclude specific diseases such as particular types of cancers. For instance, the colonoscopy is a procedure employed to search for or rule out colon cancer yet the result of the test is only as good as the reliability with which the test was performed. A colonoscopy uses a scope to see the inside of the colon to find out whether there are any polyps or tumors in the colon
When the entire colon is not visualized, as in the lawsuit previously mentioned, 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. In the event that the patient does have cancer this may lead to a delay in diagnosis that gives the cancer time to grow and progress to an incurable stage. Under such circumstances the physician who relied on such an incomplete procedure might be liable under a medical malpractice or even wrongful death claim.