Success for client with delayed diagnosis of lung cancer

A doctor looking at an x-ray of a chest
3 minute read

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Here, we look at one client’s story to show the importance of acting on suspicious symptoms.

Our client was told he had lung cancer. This was first visible on a scan taken almost a year earlier, but sadly he didn’t receive his diagnosis for nearly twelve months.

John (not his real name) had collapsed at home. He called an ambulance and was taken to A&E at his local hospital. The doctors did several tests and carried out a chest x-ray.

They thought John had suffered an episode of vertigo due to a viral ear problem and he was discharged later that day. However, around seven-months’ later, John started to experience a persistent chesty cough.

He went to his GP about this twice in two months. John’s GP rightly suspected lung cancer and referred him on the two-week-wait cancer pathway.

John had a CT scan and was reviewed by a chest physician. He was told that he may have lung cancer, and that a suspicious lesion could be seen on the earlier scan.

This news was very upsetting for John, but he tried to get on with his treatment. He underwent surgery to remove the cancer and initially this seemed to have been successful.

John continued to experience shortness of breath, however, and was unfortunately diagnosed with recurrent lung cancer around a year later. The treatment options were more invasive this time – chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

Unfortunately, John did not tolerate these very well. He wondered if such aggressive treatment would still have been needed if his cancer had been diagnosed earlier. The following year he made a complaint to Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust about the delay.

The hospital responded to John’s complaint admitting that there was a delay in acting on the first abnormal chest x-ray. That was when John contacted us for advice.

We secured an admission from the Trust that they had failed in their duty of care to John and that this had caused an eight-month delay in diagnosis. However, the Trust argued that the staging of John’s cancer would have been the same, even with earlier diagnosis, and that the delay had not caused him any measurable harm. Cancer staging is used to describe the size of a tumour and how far it has spread.

We obtained expert evidence on the impact of John’s delayed diagnosis. Our expert agreed that there was very little change in the cancer staging and that the delay probably hadn’t altered treatment he had required.

To bring a successful claim, you need to show not only that your medical staff have failed in their duty of care to you, but also that this failure has caused avoidable loss or injury. This can often be difficult because sometimes, as with John’s case, the failure hasn’t resulted in any significant harm.

Our expert had also identified another potentially negligent event. They noted that John should not have been given immunotherapy, as his tumour did not meet the criteria for this being effective. The unpleasant bowel symptoms and hip pain which John experienced as a result therefore may have been avoidable.

This additional failure only added to how let down John felt. As with all cases of clinical negligence, there is no amount of money which can compensate for what has been lost. The admission that the hospital had got things wrong in John’s treatment was the most important outcome for him.

It’s important to contact your GP, like John did, if you have concerns about any possible lung cancer symptoms. If you’ve been affected by any issues similar to the ones discussed here and would like to talk to a medical negligence expert, please contact us.

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