Over 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer occur in the U.S. each year. About 4,000 women die annually from the disease. In an effort to improve timely diagnosis of the disease, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) published updated guidelines on cervical cancer screening. These guidelines parallel recommendations by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society. As with other cancers, earlier diagnosis of cervical cancer leads to better survival rates. An unnecessary delay in diagnosis of cancer may form the basis for a medical negligence claim.
ACOG’s recommendations for routine screening include:
- Women under age 21 should not be screened.
- For women aged 21 to 29, cytology alone should be performed every 3 years.
- For women aged 30 to 65, cytology plus human papillomavirus cotesting every 5 years is preferred; however, cytology alone every 3 years is acceptable.
- Women aged 65 or older need not be screened if they have previously had sufficient negative screening results and no history of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade 2 or higher.
- More frequent screening is required for women who have a history of cervical cancer, who are immunocompromised (including HIV-infected), or who were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) in utero.
If a gynecologist or other primary care physician who is in charge of a woman’s routine health maintenance fails to follow these guidelines, it may be considered negligence. If this occurs and it results in delayed diagnosis such that the patient does not learn that she has cervical cancer until it has reached an advanced, incurable stage, a claim for medical malpractice may exist under Ohio law. When a delay in treatment is unnecessary, and it results in a reduced chance of survival, physicians can be held accountable.