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Cervical Cancer Misdiagnosis and Compensation

Doctor holding a cervix model

The American Cancer Society estimates that almost 14,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2023, of which about 4,300 are expected to die.  In recent years, death rates have dropped due to increased testing using Pap and HPV tests. The average age of diagnosis is 50, and though 20% of the cancer occurs in women over 65, the cancer is unlikely to be found in a person who has been regularly screened for cervical cancer before they were 65, according to the American Cancer Society.

What Is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer starts in the cells of the cervix, which is the narrow end of the uterus (womb). It frequently starts with pre-cancerous abnormalities, which are treatable, and even preventable. Therefore, a delayed diagnosis can have enormous repercussions on a patient’s quality of life and ability to treat this form of cancer. 

If you or your loved one has been adversely impacted by a delayed diagnosis of cervical cancer, you may be entitled to compensation.

Screening and Tests 

Women with cervical cancer in its early stages usually have no symptoms. However, in later stages, some common symptoms include: vaginal bleeding, pain in the pelvic region, swollen legs, and problems urinating.

Because cervical cancer in its early stages usually has no symptoms, and early identification is key to treating the cancer and minimizing its impact, the American Cancer Society strongly recommends getting screened regularly. It is perhaps the single most important thing that you can do. Pre-cancerous changes to the cervix can be detected through a Pap smear during routine examination. If caught early, the treatment is minimally invasive. However, if neglected, surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation may be necessary. 

The American Cancer Society recommends that women start screening at 25 years of age, and undergo a primary HPV test at least every five years from ages 25 to 65. Not only does this increase the chances of finding the cancer early, but the test can detect pre-cancer, which can be treated to prevent the cancer from ever starting. 

Unfortunately, not all women in the United States take these measures. Moreover, women without health insurance or who have recently immigrated and therefore are less likely to go to a doctor are the most likely to avoid HPV tests. As a result, most cervical cancers are found in women who have not undergone screening tests.

Failing to Diagnose Cervical Cancer

Because early detection is crucial in treating cervical cancer, it is important that your primary care physician or OB/GYN use their due diligence in educating you on screening, conducting screening properly, interpreting your results with accuracy, and referring you to specialists upon detection of abnormalities. Failure to do these things can amount to medical malpractice.

Misdiagnosing cervical cancer for another illness delays the proper diagnosis of the disease. In turn, it creates a delay in starting the correct treatment, which for cervical cancer, can have as serious a health impact as not detecting the cancer at all.

Some factors that lead to the misdiagnosis of cervical cancer include: 

  1. A clinician’s error during specimen collection
  2. Errors by the lab in interpreting or reporting the results of a test 
  3. A physicians’ failure to recommend follow-up tests for a patient with abnormal Pap smear results
  4. A doctor failing to learn of their patient’s lifestyle choices that, combined with the symptoms, may have indicated the presence of cancer 
  5. Diagnostic tests, like a Pap smear or an HPV test, may produce false-negative results. Because the test fails to detect the presence of cancer, the cancer goes undiagnosed and symptoms may be misdiagnosed for another illness. 
  6. Lack of knowledge – where a doctor is unfamiliar with the subtle symptoms that the disease may present and, as a result, fails to consider that it may be present 

Compensation for a Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis

In cases where someone has been misdiagnosed or is impacted by a delayed diagnosis of cervical cancer, both the patient and members of the patient’s family have potential causes of legal action. They may be compensated for:

Economic Damages

  • Medical expenses, past and future 
  • Lost past wages (have to establish that malpractice caused inability to work)
  • Loss of earning capacity or future wages
  • Miscellaneous economic losses, such as home care, transportation, or meals 
  • Spouse can recover for loss of financial support 

Non-Economic Damages

  • Disfigurement
  • Physical pain and emotional suffering
  • Spouse can recover for injury to the marriage (loss of consortium)
  • Family members, in the event of person’s death, may be able to recover via wrongful death action

Punitive Damages 

  • In the case of serious departure from accepted norms and practices by a physician, a court may also award punitive damages, though they are very rare 

Possible Outcomes of a Medical Malpractice Case 

It’s important to know that there is more than one possible conclusion of a medical malpractice lawsuit:

  • The case can be settled out of court, where both parties agree to an amount and avoid the case going to trial and the uncertainties, not to mention the expenses, associated with it. This is the most common way that medical malpractice cases get resolved. Insurance companies are usually the ones making the payments rather than the doctor. 
  • The case can go to trial, where either the jury decides in favor of the person suing, or the physician and/or medical facility being sued. If the jury decides in favor of the injured party, they also determine the amount of money to award, based on the severity of the injury and the extent of the malpractice. Conversely, the jury can rule in favor of the party being sued, and the case would then be dismissed, usually with no monetary compensation being awarded to the person claiming injury. 

Please see our other articles about medical malpractice in New York and New Jersey for more information. 

A Case to Illustrate

A recent case demonstrates how the level of negligence by the physician and the extent of the harm caused impacts the amount of money that the jury ultimately decides to award to the injured person. It also highlights the importance of choosing experienced attorneys who will conduct a thorough investigation and gather all of the necessary evidence and information to put you in the best position to be awarded the highest possible amount of compensation. 

$2 million award for delayed diagnosis that led to Stage II invasive cancer

  • Despite abundance of evidence from Pap smears, cervical cancer went undetected in a patient until it showed up in tests as invasive, requiring her to undergo chemotherapy and radiation therapy
  • Her legal team claimed that a timely diagnosis would have cured the tumor without her having to experience the suffering caused by the more advanced stage of cancer and the treatment it required
  • The jury awarded the patient $2 million, including $50,000 for loss of consortium 

Why You Need an Attorney

If you suspect that your doctor missed a cervical cancer diagnosis and are considering filing a medical malpractice suit, it’s important to seek legal assistance from a lawyer who specializes in this type of litigation. The sooner you do so, the more time they will have to assess your case to determine whether or not you may be entitled to compensation for medical bills, lost wages, or other forms of suffering due to the delayed diagnosis of cervical cancer.

At Rosenblum Law, we’ve been handling medical malpractice claims for decades. We work with medical experts to help support our clients’ claims, and are experienced negotiators when it comes to going up against insurance companies. Our firm is here to help you make sense of your options and protect your rights as a patient. Contact us today for an initial consultation.


How long should I wait before suing for medical negligence?

Generally, the timeframe within which a lawsuit must be filed is short. The statute of limitations varies depending on the state. In New York, the statute of limitations is three years, while in New Jersey, it is two years. After the statute of limitations runs there is no longer the opportunity to file a lawsuit.

What do I have to prove to make out a case for medical negligence?

A person filing such a claim has to show that an injury was a probable and direct consequence of the other person or entity’s negligence, and that makes them liable for any physical and/or mental harm that was caused. If successfully proven, the injured person can receive compensation.

What is the role of insurance companies in settlements?

Typically, the doctors who are being sued will carry insurance in the event that they get sued for medical malpractice. Therefore, the payments for settlements are typically made by insurance companies rather than the doctors themselves.

What are some warning signs of cervical cancer?

Some of the more common warning signs of cervical cancer may include any of the following:
· Bleeding after intercourse, after menopause, or between or following periods
· Menstrual bleeding that is heavier than usual
· Pain during intercourse
· Bouts of persistent pelvic pain and back pain 
· Difficulty urinating 

What can cervical cancer be misdiagnosed for?

Cervical cancer can be present without symptoms until it develops and gets to more advanced stages. The symptoms that do appear can be misleading because they are common with non-life-threatening conditions. For example, there is an overlap between the early symptoms of cervical cancer and a urinary tract infection or uterine fibroid, all of which can cause many of the same issues with urination. A menstrual period is another condition that cervical cancer can be misdiagnosed for.

Should a doctor be able to detect cervical cancer from a Pap smear?

If a doctor wants to test for cervical cancer, they can conduct a Pap smear. A Pap smear is one of the most, if not the most, common method of detecting cervical cancer. The doctor will take a sample of cells from the surface of the cervix and send it to a lab for it to be tested. If the pathologists notice any abnormalities, the doctor will order follow-up tests for the patient.

Doctor holding a cervix model
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