When we go to a doctor for anything from a routine check-up to life-saving surgery, we expect the highest quality of care. And that is certainly the case when dealing with serious diseases like colon cancer.
Yet researchers have found that “most U.S. hospitals are failing to meet a key quality benchmark for care of colon cancer patients — checking enough lymph nodes after surgery to see if the cancer has spread.”
Leading medical organizations say doctors should examine at least 12 lymph nodes to figure out whether colon cancer has metastasized — spread to other parts of the body — and to accurately diagnose the stage, or severity, of the cancer.
This information helps guide future treatment, including whether a patient with metastatic cancer gets the chemotherapy that can help improve survival.
But a review of data from 1,296 U.S. hospitals showed that only 38 percent of them checked at least 12 lymph nodes in at least three quarters of patients who had undergone surgery to remove colon cancer in 2004 and 2005.
Treatment for colon cancer involves surgery to remove the part of the colon that contains the cancer along with some healthy tissue on either side of the cancer to help ensure none remains behind. Nearby lymph nodes then are removed and tested for the presence of cancer.
Checking too few lymph nodes may give a false impression that cancer has not spread.
It is not uncommon to fail to find cancer if only six lymph nodes are checked — only to detect it when more lymph nodes are examined, (Dr. Karl Bilimoria of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago) said.
Physician carelessness, as is the case with this report, is perhaps the single most common factor in medical malpractice lawsuits. Unfortunately, that carelessness can cause serious injuries or death.
And anyone who feels they or a loved one were the victim of such neglect — especially the thousands discussed in the article who were told they were in remission only to find that their doctor hadn’t properly checked their progress — should immediately contact a medical malpractice attorney.
An experienced lawyer can examine the case with highly qualified medical experts to determine whether there was a medical error that caused the injury or death. This evaluation is critical because medical malpractice cases cannot be proven without the testimony of a highly qualified expert.