Sarcoma and medical negligence: A comprehensive guide

Sarcoma is a rare type of cancer which can occur in the bones or soft tissue at various locations in the body and affects both children and adults. Delay in diagnosing or treating sarcoma can affect the stage and grade of the disease, may impact upon treatment options and ultimately could mean that the disease is no longer curable. For Cancer Talk Week 2024, we delve into the issue of medical negligence about sarcoma, shedding light on this crucial matter.

Understanding Sarcoma

Around 15 people a day are diagnosed with sarcoma in the UK, however little is known about the cause. There are over 70 types of sarcomas which can affect any part of the body, though they most commonly occur in the arms, legs, or torso.

Signs and symptoms of sarcoma can include:

  • A lump or swelling which may or may not feel painful;
  • Bone pain/aching which may feel like growing pains or arthritis
  • Difficulty moving a joint or a limited range of motion in a joint
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Broken bones with no apparent cause 

Diagnosis of sarcoma is usually made following investigations including physical exams, imaging, and biopsy. The stage and grade of the sarcoma will also be established which will inform treatment options.  

Patients diagnosed with sarcoma should be seen by specialists. Treatment of sarcoma is usually surgical removal of the affected bone or tissue. Other treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy may also be required depending on the type of sarcoma and the individual circumstances. Patients will require ongoing monitoring of their condition. 

Note: Sarcoma is a diverse and complex type of cancer requiring specialist opinion. Early and accurate diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment.

The Burden of Delayed Diagnosis

A delay in diagnosing sarcoma can result in devastating consequences for the patient. It not only limits the available treatment options but can also lead to unnecessary surgeries, the requirement for more significant surgery, increased morbidity, and reduced survival rates. Delays can occur for various reasons, including the rarity and complexity of sarcomas, lack of awareness among healthcare providers, the fact that symptoms can be confused for many other conditions, and, at times, negligence.

Medical Negligence: An Overview

Medical negligence, also known as medical malpractice, occurs when a healthcare provider breaches their duty of care towards their patient by providing care which falls below a reasonable standard, causing the patient to suffer harm as a result.

The Legal Aspects

Medical negligence cases are complex, often requiring the expertise of legal professionals who are well-versed in both medical and legal issues. To establish medical negligence, four elements must be proven:

1. Duty of Care: The healthcare provider owed a duty of care to the patient.

2. Breach of Duty: The healthcare provider breached this duty by failing to meet the standard of care.

3. Injury: The patient suffered an injury.

4. Causation: The injury was directly caused by the healthcare provider's breach of duty.

Medical Negligence and Sarcoma

Examples of negligence in the diagnosis and treatment of sarcoma include:

  • Failure to refer the patient for further investigations such as imaging
  • Misdiagnosis of sarcoma as another injury/ condition
  • Misreporting of imaging
  • Failure to refer a patient to a specialist sarcoma centre
  • Failure to remove the sarcoma with adequate margins

Delay in diagnosing sarcoma is not always the result of negligence, however where negligence has led to a delay this can have severe consequences.

The Impact of Delayed Diagnosis

The impact of a delayed sarcoma diagnosis or misdiagnosis of sarcoma is far reaching. It can result in progression of the disease, the requirement for more aggressive treatments, such as extensive surgery or chemotherapy, which can have significant side effects, and can impact a patient’s chance of survival. Furthermore, it can lead to psychological distress, financial strain, and reduced quality of life.

Case Studies

Several cases highlight the issue of medical negligence in the delayed diagnosis of sarcoma. For instance, there have been instances where patients presenting with a lump were misdiagnosed with a benign condition, leading to a delay in the correct diagnosis and treatment of sarcoma, and cases where imaging such as X-rays or CT scans have been misreported and failed to identify sarcoma. In such cases, the patients or their families have sought legal redress for the negligence.

Seeking Legal Help

If you or a loved one has been a victim of medical negligence resulting in a delayed sarcoma diagnosis, it's crucial to seek legal advice. A lawyer specialising in medical negligence can guide you through the process, helping to gather evidence, build a strong case, and negotiate a fair settlement.

The Road Ahead

Improving the early detection of sarcoma requires a multi-faceted approach. This includes raising awareness about sarcoma among healthcare providers, improving diagnostic procedures, and fostering a culture of accountability in the medical field.

In conclusion, the delayed diagnosis of sarcoma due to medical negligence is a significant issue. Healthcare providers must adhere to the standard of care to ensure early detection and treatment. For those affected, seeking legal help can provide the means to obtain justice and compensation for the harm suffered.

Note: If you believe you have suffered from medical negligence leading to a delayed sarcoma diagnosis, don't hesitate to seek legal advice.

As we mark Cancer Talk Week 2024, let's continue the conversation about sarcoma, medical negligence, and the importance of early detection. By doing so, we can ensure better outcomes for patients and progress in the battle against this complex disease.

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Chat to the Author, Isobel Foenander

Senior Associate, Medical Negligence, Bishop's Stortford office

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