A look at breast cancer and patient safety during Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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A look at breast cancer and patient safety during Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Throughout October my team at JMW has been supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as we regularly see the impact of the UK’s most common cancer, owing to our work on behalf of patients who have unfortunately suffered a misdiagnosis.

I start by taking this opportunity to highlight the infographic we produced at the beginning of the month, as a reminder of the important signs and symptoms to look out for in relation to breast cancer. Take your time to have a read here

There are several case studies on our website which highlight the devastating effects a delay in diagnosing breast cancer can have. However, the purpose of this blog is to look at what treatment might look like, if you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of having received a breast cancer diagnosis. I also want to highlight some of the issues with breast cancer care that JMW sees, and to raise awareness of what needs to change from a patient safety perspective.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is life-changing, so if you’ve then experienced medical negligence on top of your diagnosis, we understand this can be extremely difficult to deal with.

The main treatments for breast cancer include:

·         Surgery – this is often the main and first line of treatment for breast cancer, and can involve a range of surgical options, including removing the tumour itself (a lumpectomy) to removing the whole breast (mastectomy). Reconstruction surgery can often be offered afterwards.

·         Radiotherapy and / or chemotherapy – such treatments use radiation or strong drugs respectively to kill cancer cells. They may be given before surgery (to shrink the tumour) or after surgery to target any cells that have not been removed and to prevent the spread of cancer.

·         Hormone therapy – this is usually given if the cancer is oestrogen-receptor (ER) positive and stimulated by the hormones oestrogen or progesterone. The drugs work by lowering the levels of those hormones in your body. Again, it can be offered before or after surgery and is usually taken for several years.  

·         Targeted therapy - If you have HER2 positive breast cancer, you will usually be offered a targeted therapy drug called trastuzumab.

The treatment you are offered will depend on the type of breast cancer you have, and what stage it has reached. . It may involve one of the above treatments or a combination.

Fortunately, there have been great advances in the treatment of breast cancer, and more women (and men) are living for longer and with fewer side effects of treatment. That said, receiving a diagnosis is distressing, and the treatment itself can be a huge challenge conjuring up emotional and practical difficulties. Many women will have to come to terms with the removal of part or all of their breast, which can be incredibly upsetting.  

But what if you then experience medical negligence on top of your diagnosis? Not only do patients need to absorb the news of their diagnosis, but they also have to come to terms with the feeling of being let down by medical professionals and the additional consequences. This can be extremely difficult to deal with.

Therefore, when I was considering writing a blog for Breast Cancer Awareness month, I thought about the many clients we have represented at JMW, who may have received a timely diagnosis, but who were still subject to negligent care when receiving their treatment, and the consequences this has had for them.  Unfortunately, many women have experienced negligent care when having surgery associated with breast cancer, and two of my previous clients came to mind; “Tina” and “Kate”.   

You can read Kate’s full story here.  Kate had received a diagnosis of breast cancer, but fortunately it was found at an early stage.  However, regrettably, she received negligent advice about the best course of treatment for her, and when a mastectomy was carried out, this was performed to a poor standard.  On top of having received a life changing diagnosis, Kate had to endure painful side effects of the negligent surgery, had several additional operations and was left with significant cosmetic deformity.

Tina’s full story is here. Whilst she had a mastectomy as a preventative measure (having been confirmed as a carrier of the BRCA1 gene) the negligent management of her reconstruction led to necrosis of the breast, painful symptoms and the loss of her newly inserted implant, all of which impacted her mental health.

My colleagues and I at JMW have settled many claims where patients have sadly received negligent care in relation to their cancer treatment (breast or otherwise). Receiving compensation can never make up for what a patient and their family has been through, but it can help them to move forward by ensuring the financial consequences are taken care of. This can include lost earnings and future financial losses that have been caused by the poor treatment.

Some scenarios that may lead to a claim, and examples of our previous cases, include: -

  • ·An incorrect diagnosis (perhaps relating to the staging or spread of cancer) or inadequate advice about treatment options, resulting in patients receiving surgery or chemotherapy unnecessarily.
  • A delay in diagnosis as a result of a failure to refer for specialist investigations.
  • Radiation overdoses.
  • Surgical negligence, either before, during or after the operation resulting in the failure to remove all of the cancer, nerve injuries, necrosis and delays in diagnosing infection.
  • Errors in the administration of chemotherapy resulting in extravasation injuries.
  • Failure to provide appropriate follow up care resulting in avoidable spread or recurrence. 

When it comes to cancer, receiving timely and effective treatment is crucial, but if mistakes have been made in relation to delays in diagnosis or during treatment, this can also have a significant effect on the outcome of your condition and result in additional, unnecessary suffering.

Regardless of the cause of the medical negligence, the consequences can be devastating, but those consequences are exacerbated if the mistakes are made on top of having received a cancer diagnosis.  At JMW we understand the impact this can have on you and your family.  If you or a loved one has suffered an injury because of negligent cancer treatment, get in touch with the team today to see how we might be able to help.

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