The very mention of the word “cancer” tends to raise fear in most of us. It can thus feel very reassuring to hear your doctor tell you that you just have hemorrhoids and there is no need to worry about the blood in your stool can be very reassuring. But this reassurance should only come after the doctor has ruled out the possibility of colon cancer (and possibly other gastrointestinal problems). Otherwise, you may not discover that you have colon cancer until it is too late.
If a doctor automatically assumes that complaints of blood in the stool or rectal bleeding by an adult patient are due to hemorrhoids and it later turns out to be colon cancer, that doctor may have committed medical malpractice and the patient may have a legal claim against that doctor.
It is estimated that there are currently over 10 million individuals with hemorrhoids. An additional million new cases of hemorrhoids will likely occur this year. In contrast, a little over 100 thousand new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed this year. Further, not all colon cancers bleed. If they do, the bleeding may be intermittent. And depending on where the cancer is in the colon, the blood may not even be visible in the stool.
Perhaps it is in part due to the difference in the volume of cases being diagnosed that some doctors simply assume that the presence of blood in the stool or of rectal bleeding is due hemorrhoids. This is playing the odds. A doctor making this diagnosis will be right more than 90 percent of the time. It sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? The problem, however, is that if the doctor is wrong in this diagnosis, the patient may not discover he or she has colon cancer until it has progressed to a late stage, perhaps even to the point where it is no longer treatable.
In one case that I and colleagues of mine recently reviewed, a male in his 40’s complained of blood in the stool to his doctor. He was assured that it was just hemorrhoids and he need not worry. A little more than two years later, the man fainted, went into a coma, and died a short time later. It was only through an autopsy that the wife and family learned he had colon cancer that had spread throughout his body, resulting in his death. This was an avoidable tragedy.
If colon cancer is detected while still contained within the colon, the patient’s 5 year survival rate will generally be above 80 percent. The 5 year survival rate is a statistical indicator of the percentage of patients who survive the disease for at least five years after diagnosis. Treatment for early stage colon cancer often requires only surgery in order to remove the tumor and adjacent portions of the colon. Depending on factors such as the stage of the cancer and the patient’s medical history (including family medical history), age, and physical condition, chemotherapy may or may not be necessary.
If the colon cancer is not detected until it has spread beyond the colon into the lymph nodes, the patient’s 5 year survival rate will generally be approximately 53%. In addition to surgery to remove the tumor and adjacent portions of the colon treatment for this stage of colon cancer requires chemotherapy in an attempt to eliminate any cancer that may be left in the body.
If the cancer spreads to distant organs like the liver, lungs, or brain, the patient’s 5 year survival rate is reduced to approximately 8%. If treatment options exist for a patient at this stage, they may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other medications. Treatment may or may not still be effective once the cancer is this advanced. When treatment ceases to be effective, colon cancer is fatal. This year, approximately 48,000 people will die in the U.S. from advanced colon cancer.
This is why doctors generally recommend that a colonoscopy should be immediately ordered if an adult patient complains of blood in the stool or rectal bleeding. A colonoscopy is a procedure whereby a flexible tube with a camera on the end is used to visualize the inside of the colon. If growths (polyps or tumors) are discovered, they can be removed (if sufficiently small) or sampled and checked for the presence of cancer (by biopsy). Only if no cancer is found during the colonoscopy can colon cancer be ruled out as a source of the blood.
By diagnosing complaints of blood in the stool or rectal bleeding as resulting from hemorrhoids without conducting the appropriate tests to rule out colon cancer, a doctor puts the patient at risk of not knowing he or she has colon cancer until it progresses to an advanced, possibly untreatable, stage. This may constitute a departure from the accepted standard of medical care and may result in a medical malpractice claim.
Contact a Lawyer Today
If you or a family member were assured by a doctor that blood in the stool or rectal bleeding were due to nothing more than hemorrhoids, and have since been diagnosed with advanced colon cancer, you need to contact a lawyer immediately. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal (or medical) advice. You should not act, or refrain from acting, based upon any information at this web site without seeking professional legal counsel. A competent lawyer who is experienced in medical malpractice can help you determine if you have a claim for the delay in the diagnosis of the colon cancer. Do not wait to contact a lawyer are there is a time limit in cases like these.