Oncologists specialize in diagnosing and treating a variety of cancers through means such as chemotherapy and radiation. They may also have received additional training as a surgeon. As millions of Americans age into their golden years, the prevalence of cancer is increasing due to increased risk linked to age and environmental factors. The key to successful cancer treatment is early diagnosis and treatment. Therefore, oncologists must exhibit diligence and care when evaluating patients for potential diseases. The Chicago oncologist medical malpractice attorneys of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC defend the rights and interests of those who have been injured or lost someone they hold dear due to the poor decisions of a negligent oncologist.
The Training Path Doctors Take Toward a Career in Oncology
Students desiring careers in oncology must first obtain a doctor’s degree in medicine or osteopathy before dedicating more than half a decade toward the additional training needed to practice as an oncologist in their desired area of specialty. The first three years is spent in residency. Those wishing to perform in the field of pediatric oncology will spend their residencies in pediatric care while all others will complete residency programs in internal medicine.
There are numerous subspecialties of oncology to pursue. Each field has varied fellowship requirements to be met before doctors may practice. A fellowship program can last from one to three years. Those desiring to practice in the field of surgical oncology will need to follow a different path altogether, beginning with up to five years of surgical training and a three-year fellowship program. The demand for oncologists coupled with their rarity in the workplace has allowed the average oncologist to make $285,000 per year in non-surgical specialties and over $300,000 in surgical oncology.
Oncologists may Take Multiple Career Paths in Specialized Medicine
As there are many forms of cancer, there are numerous forms of doctors available to provide treatment. Most cancer patients are treated by a team of specialists who come together to confirm a diagnosis, discuss treatment options and then administer the care decided upon. The subspecialties of oncology can include the following.
- Gynecological oncology — women with cancers of the cervix, uterus or other pelvic organs may be treated by a team of doctors that includes a gynecological oncologist. If chemo or radiation therapy is included in the patient’s treatment plan, the oncologist will be in charge of administering radiation, chemo treatments, and monitoring the patient’s progress.
- Radiation oncology — radiation oncologists assist doctors in diagnosing patients with cancer and may also provide radiation treatments when needed. Their primary function is to take x-rays and perform the imaging scans that other specialists order when suspecting cancer as a probable cause of the symptoms observed and reported by the patient.
- Gastrointestinal oncology — these oncologists specialize in the treatment of cancers affecting the digestive tract, such as pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, colorectal cancer and more. Some of these cancers have high mortality rates. They may be more difficult to treat due to the location of cancer, its ability to spread, and the role that the organs play in digestion, metabolism, and the removal of toxins from the body. For example, the liver is a resilient organ that encounters and removes many toxic materials from the body, making it resistant to measures like chemotherapy.
- Cancers of the blood and lymph system — some oncologists may specialize in the treatment of blood and lymph cancers. They can help in the diagnosis of these conditions by performing tests on the bone marrow to confirm a diagnosis. Then, they may perform bone marrow transplants throughout the treatment process.
- Surgical oncology — whenever oncologists are unable to treat cancers effectively through the use of chemotherapy and radiation, they may explore the possibility of removing the tumor in hopes that it will cease the continued spread of cancer. Surgical oncologists specialize in these types of surgeries and may work with a team of other specialists and surgeons to make sure that the tumor is completely removed and that any additional cancer cells are destroyed through the use of radiation or chemotherapy. Many cancer-related surgeries were once handled by general surgeons, but the field of surgical oncology sprung from the need for surgeons that understand exactly how cancer spreads, the toll it takes on patients and how best to counter it.
Forms and Causes of Oncology Malpractice and the Injuries That Result to Patients
While our Chicago oncologist malpractice lawyers have linked many cases of negligence to delays in diagnosis, there are numerous other mistakes an oncologist can make; from misreading test results to injuring a patient in the middle of an operation. Some examples of these mistakes follow below along with the possible injuries that could result.
- Delay in diagnosis/missed diagnosis. One of the worst things that can happen for a cancer patient is to be misdiagnosed. Time is of the essence when responding to cancer and many Stage 1 cancers have survival rates well over 50%. A delay in diagnosis may allow cancer to progress to later stages, where the rate of survival plummets. For example, over 52% of stage one lung cancer patients survive longer than five years following diagnosis while only 4% of stage four lung cancer patients survive. An alarming study showed that up to 20% of cancers are misdiagnosed and that one-quarter of patients with delayed diagnoses died as a result.
- Mistakes during treatment administration. The measures available for the treatment of cancer are not very pleasant. Patients may experience pain, severe nausea, loss of hair and fatigue while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. These side effects can be worsened by an overdose of medication or when they are exposed to an excessive dose of radiation. Improper radiation therapy administration can even result in burns, organ failure or the mutation of cells exposed to the radiation.
- Failure to order the right tests. One of the causes of misdiagnosis is the failure of the doctor to use the right tools when diagnosing patients who could be suffering from cancer. Some imaging techniques are better at identifying certain cancers than others. Whenever a test returns inconclusive information, the doctor should consider additional tests for the sake of being thorough.
- Poor follow up with patients following remission. When a cancer patient no longer shows any symptoms of cancer and there is no longer any presence of the original tumor or cancer cells, the patient is considered to be in remission. People who have had cancer are at the greatest risk of developing cancer in the future, so it is important for doctors to monitor their progress and perform routine tests to make sure they are still in remission. Many patients have died because their cancers returned and they were diagnosed late the second time.
- Surgical errors. There are many things that can go wrong and do go wrong during surgical procedures. A good surgeon will be able to notice and repair damage caused due to a surgical error before the patient is sewn back up. Some of the errors that can occur include perforating an organ, cutting in the wrong location, operating on the wrong area, damaging major nerves, using defective surgical equipment, administering the wrong dose of anesthesia, leaving equipment or materials inside of the patient and not taking proper measures to prevent infection during or following the procedure. An error during surgery that is not corrected or treated in a timely manner can have devastating consequences, including permanent impairment, septic shock, and death.
- Failure to take medical history into account when forming a treatment plan. In addition to the age and current condition of the patient, doctors need to consider the patient’s medical history and risk factors before recommending procedures such as the surgical removal of a tumor. All of the risks need to be communicated to patients so that they can make informed decisions and alternatives need to be considered when the risks are deemed too extreme.
- Ineffective communication with the patient or care team. Cancer care is an evolving field that is dependent on changing science. For this reason, oncologists require constant training and education on the latest care methods and techniques. They also need to communicate with the other doctors making up the care team in order to see the problem from multiple angles. Finally, the patient needs to be a part of the treatment plan and aware of how his or her lifestyle will be affected. Positive changes to diet and activity can keep patients in remission, but they need to be educated about the specific changes they need to make.
Sample Oncology Malpractice Verdicts & Settlements
$400,000 Settlement; Oncology Malpractice; Cook County, Illinois
The affected patient here was a male in his early eighties. He saw a doctor in the spring of 2004. The physician performed an MRI on his abdomen. The radiologist sought follow-up testing. However, the defendant oncologist suggested this was unnecessary. He thought the tumor identified on the film was benign. The patient was discharged and sent on his way. A few years later, the tumor had grown by over twenty centimeters. Testing revealed that it contained hepatocellular carcinoma, and it was not in fact benign. The man died from the cancer less than one year later in 2008. Lawyers for the estate sued the oncologist and related parties. They argued the defendant oncologist failed to diagnose the patient properly. Consequently, his chances of survival were lowered; his life expectancy was reduced; and his pain, suffering, and expenses were all increased. The defendants filed a summary reply. However, their failures were stark and egregious. The estate settled for a reported $400,000. The low amount reflects the victim’s age and pre-existing injuries at the time of these events.
$600,000 Jury Award; Oncology Malpractice; Cook County, Illinois
The family of a woman that passed away from cancer filed this action. Their loved one went to see an oncologist and other doctors in 2001. The radiologist recommended an ERCP to determine the reason why her pancreatic duct was dilated. The oncologist refused. Thus, the woman went seventeen months without realizing she had pancreatic cancer. She was only fifty-four at the time. The cancer eventually metastasized to her lungs. She died in 2007. The family sued the doctor and the facility. They argued that they failed to diagnose the woman properly. This could have been fixed with the ERCP procedure mentioned. Further, this missed diagnosis lessened her chances of survival. They claimed wrongful death damages as well as medical bills ($310,000) and lost income ($40,000). The defendants said they complied with the standard of care through the testing they performed. The jury ruled they were negligent. They awarded the family $600,000: $100,000 for lost normal life; $100,000 for suffering; $50,000 for lost society; $310,000 for medical bills; and $40,000 for lost income.
$2,000,000 Jury Award; Oncology Malpractice; Cook County, Illinois
The patient involved here was a woman in her late forties. She went to see a radiologist/oncologist for a screening. They conducted a mammogram. Apparently, the doctors missed a density mass in the upper right corner of her breast. This could be indicative of cancer. They sent her on her way and told her to come back in a year. When she came for that follow up, the doctors found the mass. They identified it as cancer. Also, it had spread and progressed from Stage I to Stage IIa. The woman sued the doctors and treating facility. She claimed, with an expert oncologist’s testimony, that her chance of survival and decreased and the chance of the cancer’s reoccurrence had increased. The defendant doctors argued that the cancer might not have been there when she first visited. The defendant facility chose to settle out of court. After a full trial, the jury awarded the woman $2,000,000. Of that money, $1 million was for lost normal life; $250,000 was for suffering; and $750,000 was for emotional trauma.
$1,000,000 Jury Award; Oncology Malpractice; Cook County, Illinois
The victim from this lawsuit was a female police officer. She was fifty-two. Her department ordered blood work to be done on all employees. She had abnormal liver enzymes in her system. These could have been detected in the blood work that was performed. Unfortunately, her doctors did not correctly interpret the lab results, nor was an oncologist approached or appraised of the matter. Thus, her liver cancer stayed and spread throughout her system for almost six months. After it was found, doctors operated on her to get rid of the tumors in her liver. Yet, it was all too late. She passed away roughly six months after this treatment. Her estate claimed the doctors were negligent in their missed diagnosis. If done correctly, she might have had a better chance at survival they offered. An Illinois jury awarded them $1 million in damages.
Oncology Malpractice Lawyers Ready to Defend Your Interests
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC is a leading medical malpractice law firm in Chicago. We owe our success to our ability to connect clients with attorneys that specialize in the area of law most relevant to their needs. Those who have been injured due to medical mistakes or the poor decisions made by their doctors can depend on our highly qualified and experienced medical law team, which has a successful track record extending many years. We know what is needed to build and present a winning case and have the resources needed to do so.
Contact us today to arrange a free consultation with one of our award-winning Chicago oncologist medical malpractice attorneys so that we can collect all of the information we need to launch an investigation into your claim. We will then be able to review your legal options with you. We can also answer all of your questions so that you know exactly what to expect from us as your representatives and from the process as a whole. If we are unable to secure compensation on your behalf for any reason at all, you are guaranteed that our services will be free of charge.