Colon Cancer Verdict Is $3.6M in Massachusetts
2015 Medical Malpractice Trial Report
Primary care doctor misdiagnoses symptoms of colon cancer in 45-year-old woman with a family history
The plaintiff’s decedent was a 45-year-old woman who presented to her primary care doctor in November of 2005. By that time, she had not seen the doctor for approximately 5 years. The last time she had seen him, in 2000, the doctor had correctly noted her family history of colon cancer in her father. In 2005, she complained of crampy abdominal pain after eating and had noted that her bowel movements were somewhat smaller than usual. Even though she had denied heartburn or stress, the doctor thought it was likely an ulcer and treated her with acid-reducing medication.
Approximately one month later, the patient was back with very similar symptoms, only now her bowel movements were reported to be somewhat loose. The doctor noted that there had been a good response to the medication, but that she had experienced these symptoms after eating guacamole. He increased the medication dose.
The next month, the patient came in for a physical exam, but reported that she was now constipated. In his dictated note from the physical exam, the defendant wrote that the patient’s family history was benign, which he acknowledged was inaccurate, but stated that must be what she told him that day. He admitted he would not have looked back at prior records to see the family history.
The decedent called the doctor’s office the next month in February because her “stomach issues” were still bothering her. At that time a referral was made, but to a gynecologist, not to a gastrointestinal specialist. Eventually a colonoscopy was set up and the patient was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer based on spread of the disease to the ovaries only.
The defendants claimed that the symptoms the patient had were inconsistent with cancer and did not indicate the need for a colonoscopy. At the same time, the defense claimed that the cancer was not only present, but was already advanced at all times between November of 2005 and February of 2006 (i.e., the dates of alleged negligence). Plaintiff’s countered the defense claims on causation with evidence that an ultrasound done as part of the gynecologic workup in March of 2006 (one month after the last date of negligence) showed the ovaries to be of normal size, without any abnormality shown, suggesting that the cancer had not yet metastasized and must have done so after March.
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