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Cancer Misdiagnosis Attorney

When cancer is misdiagnosed, it has the opportunity to grow and spread. This limits your treatment options and increases the risk of premature death. If you or your loved one has suffered harm because a doctor failed to timely detect cancer in a timely manner, a cancer misdiagnosis attorney at Levin & Perconti may be able to help you recover substantial compensation.

An accurate cancer diagnosis can mean the difference between life and death. Many cancers have high survival rates with early detection and treatment. Undiagnosed cancer can spread to distant organs and may require aggressive treatment or become terminal.

In most cases, a cancer misdiagnosis is a false negative. A false negative means you have cancer, but the doctor has diagnosed a different, often less serious condition. This results in a delayed diagnosis of cancer, allowing the disease to progress.

While less common, false positives also occur. A false positive cancer diagnosis takes place when you have a different condition. A false positive is also harmful because it can cause severe emotional distress and subject you to unnecessary cancer treatment, which can have long-term harmful effects.

When you report symptoms to your doctor, the doctor has a legal duty to promptly investigate according to well-established guidelines. This is known as a reasonable standard of care. When a doctor misses a cancer diagnosis after failing to exercise due diligence, serious harm may occur. This amounts to medical malpractice.

Our medical malpractice lawyers help misdiagnosed cancer patients and their families hold negligent health care providers accountable.

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Can You Sue for the Misdiagnosis of Cancer?

You may be able to sue a health care provider for misdiagnosis of cancer if you can prove that it stemmed from negligence and caused you harm. Identifying medical negligence requires a thorough investigation of your health care provider’s actions and your medical records.

Cancer misdiagnosis lawsuits are complex cases. Only seasoned medical malpractice attorneys with successful trial experience, the financial backing to stand up to large health care corporations, and extensive medical and legal knowledge should handle them.

Co-founder and senior partner John Perconti is a nationally recognized Chicago medical malpractice lawyer with in-depth knowledge of complex medical procedures and terminology. He has decades of experience standing up for medical malpractice victims in state and federal courts. With our experience and resources on your side, you can file your cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit with confidence.

Delayed Diagnosis

A study by the British Medical Journal found that the risk of death increases by approximately 10 percent every month cancer treatment is delayed. Even a delay of two weeks was associated with increased mortality.

The longer the delay, the greater the risk. An eight-week delay in treatment for breast cancer was associated with a 17 percent higher mortality rate. The rate increased to 26 percent after 12 weeks. However, a misdiagnosis of cancer often delays treatment by several months or longer.

A failure to timely diagnose cancer may stem from the following errors by doctors, pathologists, and specialists:

  • Failure to refer the patient to a specialist
  • Failure to consult a specialist
  • Failure to order the correct diagnostic tests
  • Delay in ordering diagnostic tests
  • Failure to document and investigate patient symptoms
  • Inaccurate interpretation of test results
  • Charting and communication errors within the practice
  • Pathology errors
  • Failure to promptly read test results and follow up with the patient

Diagnosed with Cancer But Didn’t Actually Have It

Cancer treatment typically involves surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of these therapies. These treatments may have long-term, serious side effects with no benefits when you do not have cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, chemotherapy may cause damage to the following:

  • Kidneys
  • Lungs
  • Bladder
  • Bone marrow
  • Reproductive system
  • Nervous system

It can even cause cancer. These effects are in addition to the intense suffering many patients experience during chemotherapy, including mouth ulcers, vomiting, and hair loss. In addition to the trauma associated with cancer treatment side effects, a wrongful diagnosis of cancer can cause extreme emotional distress and lasting trauma associated with the fear of death.

Unnecessary chemotherapy may have fatal consequences. It kills a broad range of cells, including white blood cells. This reduces immunity and makes patients more prone to contracting deadly infections, such as sepsis, while also being less able to fight them off.

A false cancer diagnosis can also cause another condition to go undiagnosed and untreated, allowing that condition to worsen.

False positive cancer diagnoses may occur when a health care provider incorrectly interprets laboratory results, fails to consult or refer to a specialist, or records incorrect or incomplete information into a patient’s chart.

The Importance of Early Detection of Cancer

Many cancers have a positive prognosis when detected early. Cancer during the early stages improves survival time, increases quality of life, and reduces treatment costs.

The Progression of Cancer

Untreated cancer tumors become larger, and eventually, some of the cancer cells split from the main tumor and spread throughout the organ where it began, then into the lymph nodes and blood. The cancer then spreads to other organs and bones, even in distant locations throughout the body. This is known as metastasis.

Treatment Options as Cancer Progresses

In many cases, when cancer is isolated to one area of the body during the early stages, you have the highest number of treatment options, including surgical removal of the tumor and targeted radiation. These treatments are often successful in removing cancer without serious long-term effects.

After cancer spreads, surgery cannot remove it from the body. Surgery may still be available to remove the main tumor, but this is not always possible, depending on the type of cancer and the characteristics of the tumor.

In most cases, advanced cancer requires aggressive systemic treatments like chemotherapy. These treatments are associated with strong side effects and are not always successful in eradicating cancer. Sometimes, these treatments can only extend life by a few months. Even if they do result in remission, you may be left with lifelong negative effects.

Survival Rates with Advanced Cancer

As cancer progresses, the odds of surviving for five years or longer decrease drastically. The table below shows the significant differences in survival time between early-stage and advanced cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Type of Cancer Early-Stage 5-Year Survival Late-Stage 5-Year Survival
Bladder 70% 8%
Breast 99% 30%
Cervical 92% 17%
Colon/Rectal 91% 14% / 13%
Esophagus 47% 6%
Kidney 93% 15%
Larynx 78% 34%
Liver 36% 3%
Lung/Broncial 61% 7%
Melanoma >99% 32%
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma 86% 67%
Ovary 93% 31%
Pancreatic 44% 3%
Prostate 99% 32%
Stomach 72% 6%
Thyroid >99% 53%
Uterine 95% 18%

These differences in survival underscore the extent of the injury that occurs when a doctor misdiagnoses cancer.

What Injuries Stem from a Cancer Misdiagnosis?

Being misdiagnosed when you have cancer can result in the following injuries and losses:

  • Metastasis of the cancer
  • The need for more aggressive treatment with increased side effects
  • A continuation of pain and other symptoms from untreated cancer
  • Denial of necessary pain medication
  • Longer, more expensive treatment
  • Lost wages
  • Premature death

A false positive cancer diagnosis can also result in severe injuries, especially if you undergo cancer treatment. In addition to psychological trauma, you may undergo painful treatment rife with short- and long-term side effects.

This was the experience of Jeff Henigson of Seattle, Washington, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 15. He underwent extensive cancer treatment and learned 35 years later that he never had cancer.

He told the Washington Post that he lived in constant fear of an early demise throughout those 35 years, experiencing anxiety every time he had a headache or underwent an MRI. He wrote a list of his injuries, which included the following:

  • Damaged vision
  • Damaged hearing
  • Hormonal damage
  • Epilepsy
  • Lung impairment
  • Severe anxiety
  • Emotional distress

Missed Opportunity to Direct Your Own Health Care

When you receive a cancer misdiagnosis, you are denied the opportunity to make informed decisions about your health.

For example, you may wish to pursue aggressive treatment to extend your life, no matter how uncomfortable. Or you may choose palliative care options instead to improve your quality of life. If you have been misdiagnosed, this choice is taken from you.

Continuation of Pain and Symptoms

The pain and symptoms that led you to seek a diagnosis will likely continue and worsen over time if you do not receive the correct treatment. Patients with cancer often need stronger pain medications than patients with other conditions, but without an accurate diagnosis, you may be denied adequate pain management.

We have seen multiple cases in which patients continued to notify their doctors about their symptoms, and they were dismissed and treated as if they were wasting the doctor’s time. When they were finally believed, their cancer had progressed too far for a hopeful prognosis. Our cancer misdiagnosis lawyers hold these doctors accountable.

Why Does Cancer Misdiagnosis Occur?

Cancer misdiagnosis may occur when a doctor fails to appropriately investigate symptoms or interprets test results incorrectly.

Errors in Clinical Judgment

According to the Journal of Healthcare Risk Management, 76 percent of missed cancer diagnoses occurred as a result of errors in clinical judgment, including the following:

  • Failure to consult with a specialist
  • Failure to refer the patient to a specialist
  • Failure to order diagnostic tests
  • Delay in ordering diagnostic tests

Pathology Errors

Pathology errors occur when a diagnostic test is carried out or interpreted incorrectly. According to the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, this may include the following errors:

  • Sampling error – The health care provider misses the lesion or takes an insufficient sample
  • Reading error – The pathologist misinterprets cells that mimic cancer
  • Contamination error – The sample is mixed up with another patient’s sample


Although a health care provider is supposed to be objective, bias is a widespread problem in the health care field. Biases may be cognitive or personal.

Cognitive Biases

A cognitive bias is an error in thinking and interpreting information. According to the University of Utah and the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the cognitive biases listed below are common in the health care field. These biases can cause a doctor to disregard pertinent diagnostic facts.

  • Anchoring bias – An over-reliance on the first information received with an unwillingness to consider new information
  • Attribution bias – A focus on discovering the reason for one’s own observations
  • Blind spots – Failure or refusal to see one’s own biases
  • Confirmation bias – Interpreting information in a way that confirms one’s existing beliefs
  • Framing – Making decisions based on how information is presented rather than considering the facts alone
  • Overconfidence – Having more confidence in one’s abilities than in the facts
  • Salience – A focus on the symptoms that are easiest to interpret
  • Zero-risk – Focusing only on certainties and dismissing ideas that incur risk
  • Search-satisficing bias – Believing our current knowledge is complete
  • Status quo bias – Favoring options that support the current scientific dogma
  • False consensus bias – Basing medical decisions on the agreement of others
  • Not-invented-here bias – Bias against knowledge or information from external sources

These types of biases can cause a doctor to refuse to consider new information or become stuck on a specific diagnosis, no matter how wrong it is.

Personal Biases

Personal biases have no place in medicine but are pervasive, especially racial and gender biases.

Racial Bias

According to Medical News Today, white patients are more likely to receive quality health care than non-white patients. According to the Fred Hutch Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington, black people have the highest cancer mortality and shortest survival of all racial and ethnic groups. This is not because of genetics but instead results from unequal treatment.

For example, when black patients present with pain or other symptoms, they may be labeled as drug seekers, as happened to retired nurse Stephanie Walker, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer and had metastatic bone disease.

According to a study by Komodo Health, black patients with colorectal cancer wait for a diagnosis an average of eight days longer than white patients and were more likely to be diagnosed after their cancer metastasized. They are 40 percent more likely to die from the disease.

Bias against black patients is a systemic problem in the medical field. In medical school, students are not taught to recognize symptoms that may appear differently in black people, such as skin cancer, according to Stat News.

Gender Bias

Women are more likely to have pain symptoms dismissed than men. According to Pain Research and Management, male patients who complain of pain are regarded by health care providers as “brave,” while women are regarded as hysterical or emotional and treated as time-wasters.

As a result, women are more likely to receive a mental health diagnosis, resulting in a physical condition such as cancer being missed.

According to BMJ Journals, among patients with bladder or renal cancers, women are more likely than men to require three or more pre-referral consultations to get a diagnosis.

General Personal Biases

Health care providers may also draw unsubstantiated conclusions about patients with the following characteristics, according to Medical News Today, which may prevent them from being objective in providing an accurate, timely diagnosis:

  • Overweight – Health care providers may assume that overweight or obese people are lazy, undisciplined, or unlikely to stick to treatment.
  • Low socioeconomic status – Health care providers are more likely to delay testing and avoid referral to specialists based on the assumption that low-income people are irresponsible, unintelligent, or irrational.
  • Age – Health care providers may assume older patients are helpless or unwilling to receive treatment and may perceive them as offensive and demanding.
  • Ableism – Health care providers may give patients without disabilities preferential treatment while viewing disabled patients as unwell or having a lower quality of life.
  • Sexual identity – Health care providers may have an implicit bias against people in the LGBTQIA+ community.

False assumptions about any person based on these attributes can prevent a doctor from being objective when diagnosing cancer. For example, a doctor may assume an overweight person with shortness of breath just needs exercise and refuse to consider lung cancer. A doctor may assume an older adult with fatigue is suffering age-related fatigue when it is a symptom of metastatic cancer.

What Are the Most Commonly Misdiagnosed Cancers?

Missed cancer diagnoses account for approximately 46 percent of primary care diagnostic errors, with the following cancers most commonly misdiagnosed, according to Hopkins Medicine:

We have also represented clients with misdiagnosed ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer.

Who Is Liable for Misdiagnosis of Cancer?

Liability for misdiagnosing cancer typically lies with the physician or team of physicians responsible for your care, but other parties may have contributed to your misdiagnosis, including the following:

  • Laboratory technicians who failed to correctly interpret laboratory results, failed to report them, or improperly labeled them
  • Pathologists who collect inadequate samples
  • Radiology technicians who inaccurately read imaging tests, fail to report test results, or fail to obtain clear images
  • Doctor’s offices and hospitals that employ negligent doctors
  • Primary care physicians, oncologists, and other specialists who failed to order the appropriate tests or otherwise investigate your symptoms

Essentially, any health care provider who contributed to your misdiagnosis may be liable, even if you did not meet the provider face to face.

How Can I Prove a Doctor Misdiagnosed Cancer?

It is not enough to prove the doctor misdiagnosed cancer. To prevail in a cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit, you must also prove that the misdiagnosis stemmed from negligence. To accomplish this, your attorney must establish that the information necessary for a correct diagnosis was available to the doctor at the time of the misdiagnosis.

Proving this will generally require a thorough review of your medical records by a medical expert willing to testify on your behalf. During such a review, the following questions must be considered:

  • What were your symptoms at the time of diagnosis?
  • How long had your symptoms persisted?
  • How severe were your symptoms?
  • Did you report the symptoms to your doctor? When and how often?
  • Did the doctor document your symptoms?
  • What tests did your doctor order?
  • Who read the test results?
  • Were follow-up tests ordered and performed?
  • Do the test results show indications of cancer, which the doctor or pathologist should have identified?
  • Did the test results warrant follow-up tests that were not ordered?
  • Was a referral warranted and not provided?
  • Did the doctor obtain a complete, accurate medical and family history?
  • Did any health care provider fail to appropriately record medical information?
  • Was the doctor’s alternative diagnosis reasonable or unreasonable?

It is necessary to retrace the steps taken during your diagnosis to prove that a reasonable doctor exercising due diligence should have discovered your cancer and that the diagnosis provided was unreasonable or insufficient.

What Costs Would a Successful Cancer Misdiagnosis Lawsuit Cover?

Whether you’ve been falsely diagnosed with cancer or experienced a delay in treatment because your doctor failed to diagnose cancer, you may be entitled to a cancer misdiagnosis payout for your pain and suffering, lost wages, and medical expenses.

Pain and Suffering

Being diagnosed with cancer is one of the most distressing experiences most people encounter. In addition to the threat to life, you may have undergone painful treatment that impaired your quality of life for an extended period. You may suffer lifelong effects on your daily life that prevent you from enjoying your life as you could before.

If your misdiagnosis was the result of medical negligence, you deserve compensation for the emotional distress, physical pain, and inconvenience you endured.

Lost Wages

Cancer treatment can make it impossible to maintain employment. In some cases, the effects of treatment could permanently prevent you from working in the same capacity. When medical malpractice is to blame for your misdiagnosis, our resourceful cancer misdiagnosis attorneys can help you pursue the following types of lost wages:

  • Missed time from work
  • Loss of employment benefits
  • Loss of future earning capacity
  • Lost business opportunities
  • The value of domestic services you can no longer perform, such as housekeeping and childcare

Medical Expenses

The cost of cancer treatment is notoriously high, with figures as high as $41,800 during the initial phase of treatment and $105,500 during end-of-life care. These are 2020 estimates, and the costs are rising. You should not have to bear the costs of unnecessary treatment or the cost of continuing treatment you will now need because of the side effects.

In a cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit, we can help you pursue the following damages to cover your medical costs:

  • Doctor visits
  • Hospital stays
  • Prescription drugs
  • In-home care
  • Ongoing and future medical expenses

Can I Collect Damages If My Family Member Died of Cancer After Being Misdiagnosed?

If a cancer misdiagnosis has tragically led to the death of your loved one, you may be entitled to recover significant compensation for the following in a wrongful death lawsuit:

  • Your loved one’s pain and suffering
  • The pain, suffering, and grief of your family
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • The lost lifetime wages of your family member
  • Lost inheritance
  • Medical expenses of the deceased
  • Loss of guidance
  • Loss of comfort
  • Loss of parental support

Cancer Misdiagnosis Statistics

As many as 10 to 20 percent of cancer cases are misdiagnosed, and approximately 30 percent of cancer misdiagnoses threaten the health or life of the patients. As a result, an estimated 40,000 people die every year from cancer misdiagnosis.

Overall, medical misdiagnosis causes 795,000 patients in the United States to die or become permanently disabled every year, and cancer is one of the top three misdiagnosed conditions. Known as “the big three,” cancer, vascular events, and infections are responsible for up to 75 percent of the serious harm from misdiagnosis.

A study of 2,155 medical malpractice claims involving diagnostic errors found the following:

  • Cancer misdiagnosis accounted for 46 percent of the wrong diagnosis claims.
  • Six percent of the medical errors were the result of poor clinical judgment.
  • Thirty-seven percent involved a failure to consult with or refer a patient to a specialist.
  • Eighty-five percent were considered “of high severity.”
Partners at Levin & Perconti in a conference room

How Much Time Do I Have to Pursue a Medical Malpractice Claim for Cancer Misdiagnosis?

The Illinois statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims is generally two years from the date the physician erred.

In the case of a misdiagnosis, the error likely will not be discovered on the date the error occurred. Illinois applies the discovery rule in these cases, which means the clock begins to run on the date you discovered or should have discovered the misdiagnosis.

It is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible after you realize you have been misdiagnosed to ensure your case can be filed before the statute of limitations expires. Once this occurs, you are barred from filing a lawsuit and holding the negligent doctor responsible.

Steps to File a Medical Malpractice Claim for a Cancer Misdiagnosis

The most important step to take in filing a medical malpractice claim is to contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible. When you contact Levin & Perconti, we will take the following steps to help you recover the maximum compensation available:

  • Conduct a thorough investigation of your medical records and each health care provider’s actions
  • Consult with medical experts, life care planners, and others who can help us prove your case and understand the full extent of your losses
  • Interview witnesses
  • File your case ahead of the statute of limitations
  • Negotiate for a substantial settlement
  • If the case does not settle for the amount you deserve, fight for you in court

Why Choose the Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Levin & Perconti?

We have over 400 years of combined experience holding negligent health care providers accountable for harming patients. Since our founding in 1992, we have recovered more than two billion dollars in settlements and verdicts for deserving clients harmed by the health care providers they trusted to protect and restore their health.

As our client testimonials show, our cancer misdiagnosis attorneys provide personalized, compassionate advocacy, and we will not settle for less than you deserve. We charge nothing for our services until after we win compensation for you. This ensures finances do not create a barrier to justice.
If a cancer misdiagnosis has harmed you or your loved one, contact us today to schedule a free consultation.