With more than 200 different types of cancer, one in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.
This November has been cancer awareness month for Lung cancer, Pancreatic cancer and Mouth cancer. These are three of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in both women and men in the UK.
What is cancer?
Cancer is a condition that occurs when cells change abnormally. These cells then reproduce uncontrollably and can spread to other parts of the body, including organs.
As these cells spread and multiply, cancer grows, and this causes a growth known as a tumour. These tumours can be cancerous or benign (non-cancerous).
The process of when cancer begins in one part of the body and spreads to other areas is known as metastasis.
If you are diagnosed with cancer you will find that cancer is staged in order to describe the type of cancer and how far it has grown.
There are two main types of staging systems for cancer. These are the TNM system and the number system.
The TNM staging system stands for Tumour, Node, Metastasis.
- T – describes the size of the tumour. The numbering stages range from one to four, with one being small and four large.
- N – describes whether there are any cancer cells in the lymph nodes. The numbering stages range from zero (no lymph nodes containing cancer cells) and three (lots of lymph nodes containing cancer cells).
- M – describes whether the cancer has spread to a different part of the body. The numbers will either be zero (the cancer hasn’t spread) or one (the cancer has spread).
The number system:
The number staging systems use the TNM system to divide cancers into stages. Most types of cancer have four stages, numbered from one to four (or you may see them as I to IV).
Here is a brief summary from Cancer Research UK of what the stages mean for most types of cancer:
- Stage one – usually the cancer is small and contained within the organ it started in.
- Stage two – usually the tumour is larger than in stage one but the cancer hasn’t started to spread into the surrounding tissues.
- Stage three – this usually means the cancer is larger. It may have started to spread into surrounding tissues.
- Stage four – usually the cancer has spread from where it started to another body organ. This is also called secondary or metastatic cancer.
Bringing a clinical negligence claim in a cancer case
Failures to diagnose and treat cancer quickly and effectively can be devastating on not just the individual affected but also loved ones. You may be able to bring a clinical negligence claim in relation to your cancer, in the following scenarios:
- A delay in diagnosis – often where a GP or medical professional has failed to advise you or refer you for further investigations based on symptoms or test results. Delayed diagnosis can then lead to a delay in treatment, which can result in the cancer advancing.
- Misdiagnosis – this can occur in varying scenarios. The patient may be misdiagnosed with a less serious illness or condition, meaning they are not obtaining access to the correct treatment. Patients can also be misdiagnosed within the spectrum of cancers, such as being diagnosed with a different type or grade of cancer. They can receive inappropriate treatment as a consequence.
- Wrong treatment – when a patient has been misdiagnosed, they may undergo unnecessary treatment or surgery which may come with negative and distressing side effects. It is important to also consider the psychological impact that people have to endure when undergoing such treatment.
- Risks – It is very important that patients are told about all the risks of treatment before consenting. You may be able to bring a claim where you have suffered damaging or life-changing injuries that you were not aware of as a consequence of a treatment or procedure.
In order to bring a clinical negligence claim you must prove that there was a breach in the duty owed to you by the health professionals, and that the breach caused injury (or further injury) and losses. Usually this means you need to prove that during the delay the cancer progressed to a more advanced stage.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) cancer guidance
NICE has produced guidelines that doctors within the NHS should follow if they suspect that you have cancer.
These guidelines state that you should not have to wait more than two weeks to see a specialist if your GP suspects you have cancer and urgently refers you.
In cases where cancer has been confirmed, you should not have to wait more than 31 days from the decision to treat, to the start of treatment.
Bringing a claim on behalf of a loved one
You may be able to bring a claim on behalf of a loved one who passed away as a result of negligence in cancer diagnosis and/or treatment, if it can be shown that their death could have been avoided.
In cases where you are bringing a claim on behalf of a loved one, you must issue proceedings three years from the date of death or from the date of the personal representative’s knowledge. If a claimant had knowledge of a claim for more than three years prior to death then limitation could have expired.
We understand that no amount of compensation will bring back a loved one, but suitable funds may be able to help you with funeral and other such costs.
In order to bring a clinical negligence claim, you must issue proceedings within three years of the injury or three years from the date of which you were made aware of any subsequent injury. For children, the three year limit does not start until they are 18. Such claims can take a while to investigate, so if you think you or a loved on has suffered from a result of negligence, you should consult a solicitor at the earliest opportunity.
For more information about our Clinical Negligence team and the services we provide, visit our web page here.
Zoe Clark, paralegal in our Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury team, contributed to this article.