Nasopharyngeal Cancer Diagnosis Delay: $2 Million Settlement

2020 Medical Malpractice Case Report
By Attorney Adam R. Satin

Medical Malpractice / Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Middlesex County Superior Court, Lowell, Massachusetts

Failure to refer to specialist results in delay in diagnosis of nasopharyngeal cancer and death of 45-year-old man

This medical malpractice case involves the death of a healthy man with no significant medical history. On 12/14/11, the decedent presented as a new patient to a family medicine practice and was seen by a Nurse Practitioner. He complained of two weeks of nasal congestion and nosebleeds from the right nostril. The nurse diagnosed a cold and advised him to follow-up with worsening or persistent symptoms.

Learn more: How To Determine Medical Malpractice in Cancer Cases

On 4/12/12, the decedent returned to the practice and saw his PCP. He reported worsening congestion for the last month, with occasional nosebleeds from the left nostril. The defendant doctor examined his nose and noted that his turbinates were pale and swollen. The defendant doctor diagnosed allergic rhinitis and prescribed Flonase spray and Zyrtec tablets. He advised him to follow up as needed. No referral to a specialist was made.

On 5/31/12, the decedent returned to the practice and was seen by the co-defendant, another Nurse Practitioner. His nose was bleeding as frequently as three times per day. He denied nose picking and recreational inhalation of drugs. The Nurse Practictioner diagnosed epistaxis and allergic rhinitis. She instructed him to continue to take the same medicine as had been prescribed by the defendant doctor, which had not worked. She also did not refer the decedent to an otolaryngologist/otorhinolaryngology for further evaluation as required by the standard of care.

During the defendant doctor’s deposition, he testified that, had he seen the decedent on 5/31/12 when the Nurse Practitioner treated him, he would have referred the patient to a specialist at that point. He was disappointed to later learn that the Nurse Practitioner had not referred him.

Approximately 9 months later, the decedent was finally referred to a specialist who immediately ordered a CT scan, which found a large mass. Subsequent biopsy diagnosed the mass as nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

The defense claimed that the decedent had an unusually aggressive Nasopharyngeal Cancer. However, the plaintiffs were prepared to offer expert testimony that the decedent’s cancer would have been cured with timely referral to a specialist, but that because such a referral was not made and the diagnosis was delayed significantly, he suffered a premature and preventable death on 4/19/16. He was 45 and left behind a wife and young son.

The case settled for $2 million.

The plaintiffs were represented by medical malpractice attorneys Andrew C. Meyer Jr., Adam R. Satin and Lynn Hu.

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