Understanding medical negligence in skin cancer cases

Medical negligence in skin cancer cases

One of the most devastating experiences anyone can go through is the diagnosis of cancer.  Although there are many forms of cancer, delayed diagnosis or negligent treatment of skin cancer can have significant consequences. 

This article aims to provide an in-depth understanding of medical negligence in the context of skin cancer, emphasising the importance of prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Definition of skin cancer

Skin cancer is a medical condition categorised by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It generally develops in skin areas exposed to the sun but can also manifest in places that are not ordinarily exposed to sunlight. 

Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer globally and is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, with about 16,200 new cases each year, so understanding its types is crucial for awareness and early detection. 

The three most common forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. 

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

  • Description: Basal cell carcinoma is the most common and least aggressive form of skin cancer. It arises from the basal cells, which are in the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin).
  • Appearance: BCCs often appear as a change in the skin and are slow growing. They might look like a pearly or waxy bump, a flat, flesh-coloured or brown scar-like lesion, or a bleeding or scabbing sore that heals and returns.
  • Common Locations: Typically develops in areas frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back. Those with fair skin who burn easily are most at risk of suffering from BCC. 
  • Treatment: Treatment options include surgical removal, topical treatments, radiation therapy, and in some cases, photodynamic therapy, or laser surgery. BCC’s are generally not considered life threatening, but can return if not adequately treated.

 Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

  • Description: Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer. It originates from the squamous cells that make up the middle and outer layers of the skin.
  • Appearance: SCC can appear as a red firm bump, a scaly patch, or a sore that heals and then reopens. It can become more aggressive than BCC if not treated.
  • Common Locations: Often found on areas of the body damaged by UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds, including the rim of the ear, face, neck, arms, chest, and back, but can occur on other parts of the body. Immunosuppressed individuals are particularly at risk of developing SCC.  
  • Treatment: Early-stage SCC can often be treated with minor surgery or sometimes with topical medications. More advanced cases may require more extensive surgical procedures, radiation, or chemotherapy. If found and treated early, SCC can be cured. 

Melanoma

  • Description: Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It develops in the melanocytes, which are the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. According to a study performed by Brighten and Sussex Medical School in 2021, incidence rates of skin cancer (cutaneous malignant melanoma) have increased more than 550% in males and 250% in females since the early 1980s in England. 
  • Appearance: Melanomas can occur anywhere on the body, not only in areas exposed to the sun. They are characterized by the appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing mole, which follow the ABCDE rule (Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, Evolving).
  • Common Locations: Can develop anywhere on the body, including less exposed areas such as the soles of the feet, palms, and under the nails.
  • Treatment: Treatment will first involve surgical removal of the affected tissue. Then, depending on the stage and location, further treatment may be offered such as pharmacological immunotherapy, targeted therapy such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Causes and symptoms of skin cancer

Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or tanning beds is the primary cause of skin cancer. Factors such as age, skin type, number of moles on the body, and family history of skin cancer can also increase the risk. Immunosuppressed individuals are also at higher risk of developing skin cancer. Symptoms may include new skin growths, changes in existing moles, and skin sores that do not heal.

Diagnosis of skin cancer

The importance of a timely and accurate diagnosis cannot be overstated when it comes to managing skin cancer effectively. Typically, a medical professional, well-versed in the field, will conduct a thorough physical examination. This will usually be a GP or a dermatologist. Further tests can include examination under a dermatoscope, or an excision biopsy, which is where a portion of the affected tissue is surgically removed, under local anesthetic, and sent to a lab for testing. The significance of an accurate diagnosis is paramount, as any delay or error in diagnosis can lead to the cancer spreading. If cancer spreads, it becomes more challenging to treat, which can result in more extensive and invasive treatment.

Treatment of skin cancer

The treatment options for skin cancer depend on the type, stage, and location of the cancer, as well as the patient's overall health. Surgery is the most common treatment method, usually under local anaesthetic. However, other treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or immunotherapy, may also be used.

Types of skin cancer claims

Skin cancer claims can range from misdiagnosis claims where a patient was wrongly diagnosed with a different illness, to negligent treatment claims where the prescribed treatment was incorrect or inadequate for the patient's condition. Regardless of the type of claim, it is essential to establish that the negligence directly caused or contributed to the patient's harm.

What constitutes medical negligence?

Medical negligence refers to a breach of duty of care by a healthcare professional, which causes harm to a patient. In the context of skin cancer, negligence can occur in various forms - from delayed or incorrect diagnosis to inappropriate or substandard treatment. Such negligence can adversely affect the patient's health and prognosis.

Making a claim for medical negligence

Bringing a medical negligence claim can be daunting, especially when dealing with a serious condition like skin cancer. However, with the right legal guidance, the process can be managed effectively. The claim process involves establishing the negligence with the help of independent medicolegal experts, determining the extent of harm, and calculating the compensation.

What to expect in a skin cancer compensation claim

Compensation in skin cancer negligence cases can help cover treatment costs, loss of earnings, and other expenses incurred due to the negligence. It can also assist with therapy or counselling required to cope with the emotional distress caused by negligence.

Choosing the right solicitor for your claim

Choosing a solicitor with expertise in medical negligence cases, particularly skin cancer cases, can significantly influence the outcome of your claim. They can provide the necessary legal advice, help gather evidence, and negotiate with the defendant on your behalf.

No win no fee skin cancer claims

Many solicitors offer a ‘no win no fee’ service, which means you only pay a fee if your claim is successful and is often deducted from your compensation. This arrangement, also known as a Conditional Fee Agreement, makes legal support more accessible to those who might otherwise struggle to afford it.

Support for skin cancer patients

Several organisations provide support and resources for skin cancer patients and their families. These include Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Skin Cancer Support, and the NHS Cancer Support Services. These services offer vital help and advice, from understanding your diagnosis and treatment options to coping with the emotional impact of cancer.

How Tees can help

Medical negligence in skin cancer cases can have significant consequences, potentially transforming a treatable condition into a life-threatening one. If you or a loved one have suffered due to such negligence, it’s important to understand your legal rights and consider seeking compensation. With the right legal guidance, you can navigate through this challenging journey and secure the justice and compensation you deserve.

Tees offers ‘no win, no fee’ agreements for the investigation of medical negligence claims – this means that no costs associated with a claim are payable unless a claim is successful. If a claim is successful, limited costs are payable from the compensation recovered, meaning we can guarantee our clients that they will receive at least 75% of the compensation awarded.

If you have recently been diagnosed with skin cancer, and have concerns about the care provided, please talk to us. Our specialist solicitors will listen and help you find the best way to move forward.

Chat to the Author, Georgina Wade

Solicitor, Medical Negligence, Bishop's Stortford office

Meet Georgina
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