Cancer is a constellation of many diseases with different causes and different outcomes. Cancer can occur anywhere in the body as a result of the abnormal proliferation of cancerous cells, which depending on their type, can either be cured or will lead to the death. The key in any type of cancer is early diagnosis and treatment. The treatment for various cancers has changed dramatically over the past 10-20 years. In turn, this has greatly changed the survivability for some types of cancer, such as breast cancer and some types of lung cancer. Diagnostic tests leading to earlier diagnosis, such as colon cancer, have also increased overall survivability.
Some cancers, such as lung cancer, may be the result of external causes in the environment (cigarette smoke). Most cancers have no specific outside cause or trigger, although many cancers have a genetic predisposition that increases the likelihood that children or siblings may develop the same cancers.
Since doctors are not the cause of cancer, the focus of any malpractice or negligence claim involving cancer is usually focused on the delay in the making the correct diagnosis. After diagnosis, most cancers are then treated, and the outcome is then a result of the type and “stage” of cancer at diagnosis. Cancers treated at a lower stage may have a much higher rate of survival. Some cancers (such as ovarian or pancreatic) have a poor survival rate regardless of when they are diagnosed. For the majority of cancers, the key to proving a medical malpractice claim is evidence that the cancer could and should have been diagnosed at an earlier stage and, that the outcome with earlier diagnosis and treatment would have been significantly different. In some cases, the focus may be on treatment decisions made after diagnosis that did not comply with the advances of modern treatment.