Medical negligence claims often arise from a delay in diagnosis of cancer. These types of claims involve a number of scenarios, including the following: (1) failure of a physician to properly screen a patient for certain cancers based on screening guidelines; (2) ignoring signs or symptoms of cancer; (3) misinterpretation of test results; (4) miscommunication of test results; and (5) failure to follow-up on abnormal test results. Delayed diagnosis of cancer cases pose many challenges for Ohio medical malpractice attorneys, and the challenges vary by the type of cancer involved, the length of the delay in diagnosis, and a number of other factors. Today, I wanted to discuss delayed diagnosis of cervical cancer as a result of failure to properly screen.

ACOG Guidelines for Cervical Cancer Screening

This year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) published updated guidelines for cervical cancer screening. The recommendations for average-risk women include the following:

  • Screening should start at age 21.
  • For those aged 21 to 29 years, screening should be done with cervical cytology (aka Pap test or pap smear) every 3 years.
  • For those aged 30 to 65, the preferred screening method is testing with both cytology and human papillomavirus (HPV) testing every 5 years. However, cytology alone every 3 years is acceptable.
  • Even women who have been vaccinated against HPV should be screened because the vaccine does not cover all strains of HPV.
  • Screening is not recommended for women over age 65 with recent negative screening results and no history of dangerous cell growth, and for women with total hysterectomy with no history of dangerous cell growth.

The primary objective of screening is to detect cervical dysplasia (pre-cancer) or early cancer caused by HPV, an extremely prevalent disease. Screening is performed to detect the dangerous cell changes in their earliest stage so as to prevent progression of the disease from a pre-cancerous or early stage of cancer to a later, terminal stage.   According to the National Cancer Institute, “

[b]oth precancerous lesions and early cervical cancers can be treated very successfully.” A medical malpractice case may arise if an obstetrician or gynecologist fails to screen eligible patients or when abnormal test results are misread or not communicated to the patient due to a paperwork error.

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