The number of skin cancer lawsuits continues to rise. Part of the reason for this increase is that the incidence of malignant melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma is on the rise. According to new figures released by Cancer Research UK, there has been approximately a 10-fold increase in the number of retirees diagnosed with malignant melanoma each year compared to the mid 1970s. Doctors relate this increasing incidence to short bouts of heavy sun exposure, often when fair skinned people are on vacation, and an aging population. When these cancers go undiagnosed due to medical negligence, the results can be catastrophic.
Medical negligence cases involving malignant melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma are unique cases. First, squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma cases are generally difficult to prove because they are typically slow-growing cancers. Therefore, a delay in diagnosis may not cause any harm to the patient. By contrast, malignant melanoma can be a rapidly spreading tumor such that even short delays in diagnosis and proper treatment can have devastating consequences.
When caught in its early stages, malignant melanoma carries an excellent prognosis. Full cure consists of simply surgically removing the cancerous lesion with sufficient depth and detail to achieve a “clean margin” of noncancerous skin tissue around the surgical site. However, when a delay in diagnosis occurs, resulting in a failure to achieve a clean margin, the cancer can spread thereby involving other organs, including lungs, brain, lymph nodes and liver. When this occurs, the chance of survival plummets and the harm is implicit: life versus death.
Malignant melanoma cases are also unique among delayed diagnosis of cancer cases because the stage at the time of misdiagnosis can be readily determined by looking at the size and depth of the original skin lesion. With other types of cancer, it is often more difficult to prove that the cancer was at an earlier stage when the missed diagnosis occurred.