Breast cancer, especially delays in its diagnosis, is the subject of many medical negligence or malpractice claims. According to the Physician Insurers Association of America (“PHICO”) court claims are how the civil justice system works to compensate people injured by medical negligence. These suits also bring important public health concerns to light and, hopefully, encourage doctors to re-examine their practices to ensure that they are giving the best possible care.
Once breast cancer has been diagnosed, more tests will be done to find out the size of the tumor and if it has spread from the breast to other parts of the body. This is called “staging”. Staging of a breast tumor is important to determine the treatment program and probable outcome. Staging is very in-depth, but basically functions on a scale of 0 to IV. Each increasing stage indicates further spread of the cancer. Stage 0 represents “lobula carcinoma in situ”. Stage IV indicates that the cancer has unfortunately spread to other organs of the body. The goal of screening for breast cancer is to find the cancer before it is in Stage II, II, or IV. Breast cancers that are detected at high numbered stages have a poorer prognosis. In contrast, breast cancers found during Stage I have a 95% survival rate of five years after discovery. Finding breast cancer as early as possible greatly improves the likelihood that treatment will succeed. The size of the tumor and the extent that the cancer has been spread are the most important factors in predicting the outlook for survival of a woman with this sad disease.
The American Cancer Society’s recommendations for early breast cancer detection include:
- Montly self-examination for woman aged 20 and older;
- A breast examination by a health professional every three years for women aged 20 to 39;
- Women aged 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year;
- After age 40, women should have a breast exam by a health professional every year;
- Any time a change occurs, such as development of a lump or swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple pain or retraction, redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin, or a discharge other than breast milk, you should see your health care provider immediately. As we say in the law profession, “time is of the essence”.