Stomach cancer is one of the top causes of cancer deaths in the world. An estimated 28,000 new cases of stomach cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, and 10,960 people are expected to die from the disease in 2017, according recent data from the American Cancer Society. Sadly, many of these deaths are the result of a misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis.
Understanding Stomach Cancer
Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, is one of the most common types of cancer. It occurs as a result of abnormal cells growing uncontrollably in the lining of the stomach. It can be life-threatening if it is not caught early on and treated in a timely manner. Unfortunately, stomach cancer is sometimes difficult to detect in its early stages because the signs of stomach cancer are also symptoms of other illnesses. These can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Decreased appetite or the feeling of fullness
- Vomiting and/or nausea
- Unexplained weight loss
- Swelling in the abdomen
- Indigestion or heartburn
As stomach cancer progresses, other symptoms can include black, tar-like stool, blood in the stool, and blood in the vomit. To diagnose this type of cancer, doctors should conduct a physical examination, ask personal health questions, understand a patient’s family medical history, and find out if a patient has any factors that can increase one’s risk of stomach cancer. Some of the risk factors include:
- Salty foods frequently consumed in one’s diet
- Inadequate fruits and vegetables in one’s diet
- Stomach polyps (growths on the inner lining of the stomach)
- Infection with Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which causes long-term stomach inflammation
- Gender (men have a higher risk of developing stomach cancer)
- Ethnicity (stomach cancer is more common among Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian/Pacific Islander Americans)
- Age (people over 50 are more commonly diagnosed with stomach cancer)
- Family history (people of family members with stomach cancer have an increased risk)
When doctors fail to conduct thorough examinations and brush off stomach cancer symptoms as symptoms of common illnesses, they can be guilty of medical malpractice. Unfortunately, many people are misdiagnosed every year as a result of doctor negligence. Subsequently, their patients suffer the adverse effects of being misdiagnosed or receiving a delayed diagnosis.
Misdiagnosing Stomach Cancer
The truth of the matter is that many doctors are in a rush and don’t spend adequate time with their patients. Consequently, stomach cancer may be confused with the following conditions:
- Irritable bowel syndrome. A condition that affects the lower gastrointestinal tract and causes abnormal bowel movements and abdominal pain.
- Indigestion. A condition in which there is discomfort in the upper abdomen or a feeling of fullness. It can also cause nausea, heartburn, and bloating.
- Celiac disease. A common chronic digestive condition that can cause bloating, gas, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, weight loss, fatigue, and more.
- Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are two types of IBD that have similar symptoms such as abdominal pain, urgent need to move bowels, weight loss, loss of appetite and more. Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract and ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory condition of the colon.
- Peptic ulcer. A condition marked by open sores on the inside lining of the stomach. Generally, people with these ulcers have stomach pain, bloating, nausea, feeling of fullness, and heartburn.
Because many of these conditions mimic the symptoms of stomach cancer, a diagnosis may be missed or delayed. This is often the result of a doctor failing to order the right tests and not conducting a thorough personal and family medical history.
Diagnosing Stomach Cancer
In addition to asking about a patient’s medical history and conducting a physical examination, a doctor can also diagnose stomach cancer by examining the esophagus and stomach during an endoscopy procedure (in which a device is inserted down into the esophagus and stomach to takes pictures). During the endoscopy procedure, a biopsy of the stomach tissue can be taken to determine if there are cancerous cells. Also, blood tests are usually done and stool samples are taken.
When these things aren’t done and the cancer is given a chance to spread, the treatment can be more extensive and create more of an emotional and financial toll on a patient. Although many people with stomach cancer are able to beat the disease following surgery and chemotherapy, others aren’t so fortunate. Sadly, many victims of stomach cancer should have been diagnosed with the disease during the cancer’s earlier stages but weren’t because of doctor negligence.
If you or a loved one is a victim of a misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis that caused you further harm, you may have rights to a medical malpractice claim. To learn more about your legal rights to compensation, call us or order a free copy of our book, Do I Have a Case? A Patient’s Guide to Virginia Medical Malpractice Law.