The need for screening even asymptomatic people for colon cancer when they are fifty or older and for testing people who exhibit certain symptoms like blood in the stool is commonly accepted within the medical community. Not doing so could potentially lead to a delay in the diagnosis of colon cancer which in turn might allow the cancer to spread. In what follows we analyze a case regarding a woman in her fifties whose physicians not only failed to screen her when she was asymptomatic they also did not test her when she developed a number of symptoms.
Consider a lawsuit that arose from the following situation: a female saw her family doctor starting when she turned fifty until she was fifty five years old. In that period of time her doctor saw her for obesity, a hernia as well as hypertension. At no time however did her physician ever do screening for colon cancer.She began having various symptoms : diarrhea, vomiting and blood in her stools when she turned fifty five. At the emergency room the attending physician diagnosed her with gastroenteritis. Within a week’s time she went to her doctor for follw up. The doctor noted that she complained of having as many as three bowel movements a day. The doctor also noted that she continued to have blood in her stools. The doctor did not consider that she might have colon cancer and only concluded that she had colitis. As a result the physician advised her that it was not necessary to take any immediate action and that a lower endoscopy may be necessary if her symptoms did not resolve. A year later she once more saw this medical doctor and reported having abdominal issues and as much as 60 pounds of unexplained weight loss. The physician decided that her weight-loss was the result of a modification in her diet and even though she had a background of blood in her stools that doctor again did not do any tests to rule out colon cancer.
A month afterward she again ended up at the hospital because of of abdominal pain and ongoing diarrhea and by now there would be blood present every time she vomited. Her stool was now a dark brown color and testing revealed blood present in the stool. The physician at the emergency room diagnosed her as having a gastrointestinal bleeding. The ER doctor ordered an x-ray which found a partial blockage of the bowel. At this point she was admitted to the hospital. Additional testing followed. Blood tests then revealed that she might have colon cancer.Initially a gastroenterologist performed an upper G.I. endoscopy and got several biopsies. This gastroenterologist also failed to perform a colonoscopy. It was not until a covering doctor at the hospital considered that her history indicated the possibility of cancer and that additional testing was required that a sigmoidoscopy was ultimately performed approximately 2 weeks later. The sigmoidoscopy showed a large obstruction and a follow-up CAT scan recorded a large tumor. During surgery it was discovered that her cancer had already metastasized to both her uterus and to her bladder. In addition the pathology report found the presence of cancer in 13 lymph nodes. She had metastatic.
She started treatment consisting of but after developing an intolerance for the chemotherapy in addition to bowel obstructions and even renal failure, the woman died within a year of her diagnosis. She was only 58 years old. She was survived by her husband and 2 adult children. Her family went forward with a lawsuit against the physicians for the delay in the diagnosis of her cancer. The law firm that represented the family in this matter documented a settlement in the case for $950,000 for the family.