Patient: “Doctor, I am seeing blood in my stool when I go to the bathroom.”
Doctor: “Don’t worry about it, you probably just have hemorrhoids.”
Tragically, a year or two later this patient learns that the bleeding was actually caused by a cancerous tumor in the colon. He or she now has advanced colon cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes or even to a distant organ, such as the liver or the lungs.
Doctors generally recommend that if an individual has rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, testing should be done to rule out the possibility of cancer in the colon. The test that is most commonly performed to rule out cancer is called a colonoscopy, which involves the use of a flexible tube with a camera on the end to visualize the inside of the colon. If growths (polyps or tumors) are found, they can be sampled (by biopsy) and possibly removed during the procedure. The samples (biopsies) are then examined for the presence of cancer. If no cancer is found, then it can often be ruled out as a source of the blood. Unfortunately, all too often, an individual’s doctor will simply attribute the blood to hemorrhoids without referring the individual to a specialist (a gastroenterologist) and without ordering any testing, such as a colonoscopy, to rule out cancer.
Colon cancer is a disease that progresses over time. As the cancer advances it becomes more difficult to treat successfully. For example, when the disease is in stage 1 or stage 2, it is still contained inside the wall of the colon. Treatment for these stages usually involves surgery to remove the tumor and surrounding parts of the colon. Chemotherapy is often not usually part of the treatment of stage 1 and stage 2 cancer in the colon unless it is given to a person who is young as a preventative measure. With treatment, the individual with stage 1 or stage 2 cancer in the colon has an excellent chance of surviving the disease for at least five years after diagnosis. The relative 5-year survival rate is over 90% for stage 1 and 73% for stage 2.
By the time the colon cancer progresses to stage 3, it has spread outside the colon and treatment requires both surgery and chemotherapy (possibly with other cancer affecting drugs as well). The relative 5-year survival rate for stage 3 colon cancer is 53%. If the cancer progress to stage 4, the relative 5-year survival rate is reduced to approximately 8%. Treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other medications may or may not still be effective. When treatment is no longer effective, the disease is fatal. Approximately 48,000 people will die in the U.S. from colon cancer this year alone.
It is thus critical that cancer in the colon be diagnosed as early as possible. Unfortunately, all too often doctors simply assume that blood in the stool or rectal bleeding is the result of hemorrhoids, even after multiple complaints by the patient. Instead of referring the patient to a specialist (a gastroenterologist) or ordering tests, such as a colonoscopy, to rule out cancer, they tell the patient that there is nothing to worry about. If the patient did have colon cancer and it is not detected until one or two years later, it may progress to a stage 3 or a stage 4 by the time of diagnosis.
At this point, the cancer may be much more advanced than it was at the time the patient complained of rectal bleeding or blood in the stool. As a result, the patient now has a much reduced chance of surviving the cancer. Under such circumstances, the failure of a doctor to rule out cancer in the colon at the time of the patient’s complaints may constitute a departure from the accepted standard of medical care resulting in a medical malpractice claim.
Contact a Lawyer Today
You need to contact a lawyer immediately if you or a family member have been diagnosed with advanced colon cancer after having complaints of rectal bleeding or blood in the stool ignored by a doctor. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal (or medical) advice.
You should not act, or refrain from acting, based upon any information at this web site without seeking professional legal counsel. A competent lawyer with experience in medical malpractice can assist you in determining whether you may have a claim for the delay in the diagnosis of the cancer. There is a time limit in cases like these so do not wait to call.