Delay in diagnosis of lung cancer is a common basis for medical malpractice claims in the State of Ohio. Results of the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) published recently in the journal Cancer show that screening of smokers for lung cancer saves lives. In fact, screening of all eligible heavy smokers has the potential to prevent about 12,000 deaths each year in the U.S.
An important role of primary care physicians, such as family doctors or internists, is to provide preventative care. A key aspect of preventative medical care is screening. The types of screening required are determined by risk factors. Thus, patients who are high risk of adenocarcinoma of lung, like long-term smokers, should have routine imaging performed to catch the disease in its earliest stages. Without screening, adenocarcinoma tends to be detected in its later stages when the chance of survival is significantly lower.
In Ohio, a medical malpractice claim may arise if a physician delays diagnosis and treatment. One type of medical negligence claim arises out of the failure to recommend or order screening tests. The NLST study makes clear that screening is required in smokers. In fact, the study was completed early due to a 20% lower lung cancer mortality rate among current and former smokers screened with three annual low-dose CT scans rather than a conventional chest x-ray. So, the study shows that screening of smokers is necessary and should be done using a CT scans. When primary care physicians take a proper history from their patients, they always inquire about smoking history. Once a history of smoking is established, the physician has a duty to make an acceptable screening recommendation.