Delayed cancer diagnosis claims

Updated: October 8, 2018


Outcomes for people with cancer are continuing to improve through better screening programmes, availability of treatments and quality of care. However early detection and referral is still crucial.

The latest analysis by Cancer Research UK estimates that around 52,000 patients a year may have their odds of survival reduced because the disease is not caught quickly enough.

If an avoidable delay results in harm to the patient, a worsening of symptoms or the need for more aggressive treatment, it may be possible to claim compensation for clinical negligence.

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What is meant by "delayed diagnosis of cancer"?

The NHS National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) defines delayed diagnosis of cancer as when someone who has cancer is either:

  • Not investigated or referred for investigation, or, having been investigated, is not diagnosed at the time of investigation or is diagnosed incorrectly; or
  • Where a positive test result or diagnosis is not properly communicated to a healthcare professional who can act on the information; or
  • Where the information is not acted upon, meaning appropriate treatment is not commenced.

Other delays may occur if a patient does not recognise his cancer symptoms and therefore does not seek healthcare advice, or if the patient fails to attend an appointment for further investigations such as screening.

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What types of cancer are at the greatest risk of a delayed diagnosis?

A study by the NPSA revealed that gynaecological, skin, urological and breast cancers were most commonly associated with a delay in cancer diagnosis.

The majority of delays were between one and three months, and in a third of all cases patients sustained harm as a result of the delay.

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    The impact of the delay

    A delay in diagnosis of cancer may mean the required treatment is different, for example a patient may need chemotherapy as well as surgery, or perhaps a full mastectomy to treat breast cancer where a lumpectomy might have been sufficient with earlier detection.

    Stronger, more toxic, medication or more invasive surgery may have a negative impact on a patient's quality of life, where a cancer has been allowed to advance. Late diagnoses also increase psychological distress for patients and their families.

    A patient's chance of five-year survival may also have been reduced.

    Harm arising from a delay can include:

    • Unnecessary pain and suffering
    • More invasive or prolonged treatment, including cases where chemotherapy or radiotherapy has become necessary as a result of the delay
    • A worsened prognosis or poor prospects for recovery
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    Can I make a claim for compensation for delayed cancer diagnosis?

    In some cases, a delay may be unavoidable.

    Many patients have initially non-specific symptoms, and a conclusive diagnosis of cancer may require consultations with specialists and a number of tests. It may also be necessary to carry out a biopsy. These factors can all result in a delay in diagnosis.

    The key issue when determining whether compensation can be claimed is whether or not a patient's care fell below a reasonable professional standard.

    If, for example, a medical professional missed diagnostic signs and failed to refer a patient for tests that would have promptly revealed the cancer, that professional may be found to be negligent. If a clinic or lab fails to return test results promptly, or those results are mislabled, they may be negligent.

    Your solicitor will address the issues of negligence and liability when they speak to you about your case.

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    How much compensation can I claim for a delayed cancer diagnosis?

    The amount of compensation you will receive depends on a number of factors. Our personal injury compensation calculator provides an accurate estimate of your likely compensation.

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    Meet our team

    Quittance Legal Services' national network of solicitors handle all types of clinical negligence claims, including short-term, serious and life-changing injury claims. Chosen for their track record in winning cases, Quittance's panel solicitors have years of experience.

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    Kevin Walker Serious Injury Panel Solicitor
    Carol Cook Clinical Negligence Panel Solicitor
    Lee Raynor Clinical Negligence Panel Solicitor
    Jonathan Speight, Senior litigator

    About the author

    Jonathan has over 30 years' experience in the personal injury sector and has been awarded the rank of Senior Litigator by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL).

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