Cancer Symptoms Often Overlooked in Children and Teens

Study Finds Teens Frustrated by Lack of Diagnosis

A recent British study found that young cancer patients often feel frustrated that physicians do not take their symptoms seriously and consider cancer as a possible diagnosis. The study looked at the cases of 24 cancer patients between the ages of 16 and 24 years old. It took between eight weeks and 11 years to diagnose each case of cancer. The patients told researchers that they believed that cancer was ruled out as a possibility based on their age alone.

Symptoms and Rarity of Disease Hinder Cancer Diagnosis

One of the most difficult aspects of determining whether a child or teen has cancer is the commonness of the symptoms. For example, a child may complain of feeling pain all over or of headaches, two relatively common symptoms that could be related to various illnesses or disorders, or even nothing at all.

Examples of typical cancer symptoms in children and teens include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Whole body pain
  • Bone pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Weight loss

Since these symptoms can be related to any number of illnesses, doctors may overlook cancer for a more benign explanation. For example, one teen went to the doctor complaining of foot pain. She was told she had a sprained ankle. However, her symptoms did not improve. Then she was told that the reason she was having foot pain was because she was overweight. Another time her pain was discounted altogether and she was told that she was an attention seeker. Finally, a doctor ordered a MRI scan and discovered that the teen had soft tissue cancer six months after she first began complaining of the pain. The delay in diagnosis resulted in permanent nerve damage to her foot.

In addition to nonspecific symptoms, doctors also may fail to consider cancer because it is so rare in young people. In the US, approximately 14 out of every 100,000 children develop cancer. Worldwide, 15 to 24 year olds account for less than 2% of all cancer cases.

With the odds of a child or teen having cancer being so low, many family doctors may dismiss the possibility before performing any further diagnostic testing to rule it out. While statistics dictate that in most cases the child will not have cancer, failing to perform the proper testing or refer the child to a specialist for a more thorough examination can have a devastating impact on the one child out of thousands who actually does have cancer.

Cancer Misdiagnosis and Your Legal Rights

One of the most effective tools to fight cancer is early detection. When a cancer diagnosis is delayed or missed, the patient may have to undergo longer and more invasive forms of treatment. In the worst cases, the window for treatment may be missed altogether and the cancer may not be treatable.

In some cases, a physician may be legally responsible for failing to make a correct cancer diagnosis. Even though it can be difficult to correctly identify the symptoms of cancer in a young patient, when the symptoms continue to persist the physician should be on notice that a more thorough examination of the child is necessary to rule cancer out.

When a physician acts negligently and fails to make a timely cancer diagnosis, the law provides that the parents and the child have the right to file a medical malpractice claim. While the lawsuit will not give the child back the time he or she has lost, it can provide much needed compensation to help pay for cancer treatments and other medical expenses.

For more information on your legal options after a cancer misdiagnosis, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney today.