Beware: Pediatric Cancer Is Often Misdiagnosed

pediatric cancer misdiagnosisDid you know that approximately 15,780 children between birth and the age of 19 are diagnosed with cancer every year in this nation? For some of these children, sadly, their cancer was not diagnosed in the early stages of the disease. According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, childhood cancer is often misdiagnosed or overlooked by doctors.

Because childhood cancer is rare, many doctors ignore signs of pediatric cancer and diagnose cancer symptoms as common childhood injuries or illnesses. For instance, if a child vomits, has abdominal pain, decreased appetite, frequent fevers, and shows signs of fatigue, a doctor may diagnose a child as having the stomach flu. And although more often than not a child will end up having a stomach bug rather than cancer, doctors need to be diligent and thorough in their testing and diagnosis. Consequently, a child’s cancer could be made worse as a result of doctor negligence.

What the Numbers Reveal

A review of 354 pediatric patient records was conducted at the University of Rochester Golisano Children’s Hospital between 2004 and 2012. According to the data, an incorrect non-cancerous diagnosis was initially made by doctors in 52% of the cases. This is alarming, as it means that over half of the time doctors missed diagnosing pediatric cancer. A review of these records also revealed that that brain tumors and soft tissue sarcomas (cancer in the body’s fibrous tissues, muscles, fat, nerves, etc.) were the most misdiagnosed pediatric cancers.

Some of the common types of pediatric cancers that are misdiagnosed or overlooked include:

  • Hepatoblastoma is a rare type of liver cancer that affects children from birth up to age three. Symptoms include jaundice, itchy skin, belly pain, loss of appetite, vomiting, back pain, swollen abdomen, and fever.
  • Neuroblastomas are tumors that are often found in the abdomen or pelvis of children, and they can also be found in the adrenal glands or in the chest or neck. Symptoms can include a visible lump in the abdomen or neck, bone pain, swelling in the legs, swelling in the scrotum for boys, bowel and bladder problems, belly pain, and other problems depending on what the tumor is pressing on.
  • Lymphomas in children are classified as either Hodgkin lymphoma (usually seen in older children and teens) or non-Hodgkin lymphoma (seen in younger kids). According to Cancer.org, about 5% of children cancers are non-Hodgkin lymphomas and about 3% are Hodgkin lymphomas. These cancers affect the lymph system (the body’s immune system), and the most common sign of lymphoma in children is a visible large lymph node in the neck.
  • Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (also called acute lymphocytic leukemia or ALL) is cancer of the bone marrow. This type of cancer progresses fast and invades the blood quickly—often spreading to the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, brain, and spinal cord. Symptoms can include fatigue, fever, reoccurring infections, weight loss, and bruising and bleeding easily.
  • Osteosarcoma is a type of cancer that begins to grow in the bones. Teens are the most commonly affected age group, but this type of bone cancer can occur in young children and even young adults. Generally, these tumors develop around the knee or the upper arm bone close to the shoulder, and pain may be felt in the affected area. The pain often gets worse with activity and feels worse at night. Swelling is another symptom and sometimes a lump can be felt in the affected area.

Sometimes these conditions are misdiagnosed by doctors as growing pains, pulled muscles, bruising, inflammation, bone infections, hernias, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, difficulty eating, food intolerance, constipation, stomach virus, reflux, viral hepatitis, mono, and many other common illnesses. Many doctors are in a hurry and rush through appointments—failing to be thorough when diagnosing patients. Consequently, the right tests aren’t ordered and too much time goes by before pediatric cancer is diagnosed.

The Consequences of Misdiagnosed Pediatric Cancer

A late diagnosis gives the cancer time to spread (metastasize). Although some pediatric cancer patients are able to respond to treatment, some children end up passing away due to doctor negligence. By the time a doctor makes a correct diagnosis and treatment begins, a child may have a late stage of cancer—making it too late for treatment to be of any good. Even if a child responds to treatment, discovering cancer later instead of earlier can put a child and the child’s family through much more physical, financial, and emotional pain.

If your child’s doctor made a wrong diagnosis or brushed off your child’s cancer symptoms as a minor illness, you may have grounds for filing a medical malpractice claim for a misdiagnosis. When a child is further injured as a result of a misdiagnosis, the parents of the child have a right to collect compensation for their child’s medical bills and pain and suffering. If you would like to find out more about pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit, contact our law firm for a free, no-obligation consultation today.