Understanding Skin Cancer and Whether Medical Negligence Is to Blame for Delayed Treatment

Doctor performing an exam of pigmented skinDid you know that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States? And although doctors are aware just how common it is, sometimes skin cancer goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed due to medical negligence.

Understanding Skin Cancer

The main cause of skin cancer is the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. This is why any exposure to UV light that comes from the sun or tanning beds can put people at risk for developing skin cancer. “About 86 percent of melanomas and 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays,” said Perry Robins, M.D., president of the Skin Cancer Foundation.

There are many different types of skin cancer, such as melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. About 3.3 million Americans are diagnosed every year in this nation with basal cell cancers or squamous cell skin cancers. According to American Cancer Society, the number of people getting diagnosed with these skin cancers has increased over the past few years. However, melanoma is the most dangerous and difficult type of skin cancer to treat once it spreads; fortunately, it is not as common as the other types; about 87,110 new melanomas are expected to be diagnosed this year.

Skin Cancer Detection

Over the course of a few weeks or months, spots can develop on one’s body or moles can change color or shape. However, many people don’t inspect their bodies for changes in the skin—especially during the winter months when it is cold and people stay bundled up. This is why summertime is often a great time to remind everyone to inspect their bodies for any concerns or changes to the skin. In fact, melanoma skin cancer awareness month occurs every May, at the beginning of summer, to remind people to check their bodies from head-to-toe—and not just during the summer months, but every month.

While it’s a good idea to perform a skin self-examination every month, it is just as important to see a doctor every year for a professional skin examination. The good news is that the vast majority of skin cancers are treatable if they are caught early. Generally, a dermatologist will take a tissue sample through a biopsy in order to make an accurate diagnosis. If the biopsy results come back positive, the cancerous growth will usually be removed through surgery. If the cancer is non-melanoma, radiation and chemotherapy may also be needed.

Skin Cancer Malpractice

Unfortunately, sometimes skin cancer goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed by doctors. Here are two common ways this occurs:

  • Primary care provider malpractice. Many insurance plans require that patients first see their primary care physician before being referred to a dermatologist. Some general practitioners may try to diagnose the skin condition without sending a patient to a dermatologist for a thorough exam. As a result, a primary care doctor may misdiagnose skin cancer as psoriasis, eczema, or another skin condition—leaving the skin cancer to spread. If a general practitioner fails to refer a patient to a dermatologist, it can be medical malpractice.
     
  • Dermatologist malpractice. Believe it or not, dermatologists make mistakes when it comes to diagnosing skin cancer. For instance, they may be in a rush and fail to properly diagnose a type of skin cancer. It’s even possible for a dermatologist to misread a biopsy report, and as a result the cancerous growth isn’t removed.

When Missed Skin Cancer Causes Harm

When skin cancer is not identified early, the patient won’t receive the aggressive treatment that may be vital to his wellbeing. A delay in treating skin cancer can cause significant injuries, disfigurement, or even death. If you or a loved one has suffered physically, emotionally, or financially as a result of a delay in treatment of skin cancer, you may have a case for medical malpractice. Please contact us online or by calling our office today and learn about your rights in a free, no-obligation consultation.