Why is Melanoma Diagnosed Late?

 

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer. 14,500 cases are diagnosed each year, which makes it the fifth most common form of cancer. About half of patients are over 65 and 2/3 are men. The condition is becoming more and more common. There are 4 times as many people with melanoma than there were in the 1970s, which is a surprising increase. Even more surprising, the number of cases has doubled in the last 10 years.  Some people are more at risk because of their skin type. Others increase the risk by spending too much time in the sun without skin protection.

In fact most people are diagnosed early. Early diagnosis generally leads to a good outcome and the vast majority now survive. However sometimes melanoma is diagnosed late. Delays can be very serious. The risk of death gets much greater when the condition is left.

So why are some people diagnosed late?

There are probably a number of reasons. The first is that people do not always recognise a growth as anything other than a harmless mole. They may therefore not go to see their GP until a late stage.

Sometimes doctors make mistakes. A GP may, for instance, not realise that a lump is suspicious and not refer the patient. NICE guidelines provide a scoring system for GPs to use when deciding whether to refer to a specialist.  The features they should regard as suspicious are:

  • change in size;
  • irregular shape;
  • irregular colour;
  • 7mm or more across;
  • inflammation;
  • oozing; and
  • change in sensation.

Similarly sometimes specialists make mistakes when carrying out an examination and fail to treat a lump as suspicious. More often they arrange to cut out the lump (excision) and send it for analysis under a microscope (biopsy) but the pathologists, looking at the cells, who make a mistake. Experience of acting for many people who have suffered negligent delays suggests this is the most common mistake.

In the worst cases patients should have been diagnosed at a time when their melanoma could be cured but delays mean it is now incurable. People who find themselves not just being diagnosed with cancer but realising that there have been avoidable delays in their diagnosis deserve every sympathy. Where they have suffered harm because of negligent errors it is right that they should be able to bring claims for damages. Those claims require expert legal help.

Our specialist lawyers understand the difficulties of living with cancer and can assist with complex claims arising from medical mistakes.