The American Academy of Dermatology reports that 1 in 5 people will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives, with 8,500 people being diagnosed each day.
Although skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, the condition is often misdiagnosed. Depending upon the circumstances and the delay in obtaining a correct diagnosis, this may qualify as a form of medical malpractice.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. The following is a brief overview:
- Basal cell carcinoma – The most common type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma is very treatable if it's caught early and will seldom spread to other parts of the body. Basal cells line the deepest layer of the epidermis, with a carcinoma appearing as a sore or lesion. People with fair skin or those who spend a lot of time outdoors have the highest risk of acquiring this cancer.
- Squamous cell carcinoma – Squamous cells make up the top layer of the epidermis, with a squamous cell carcinoma typically resembling a wart or sore on a part of the body that is most often exposed to ultraviolet light. This type of skin cancer is the fastest spreading, but is still considered less aggressive than melanoma.
- Melanoma – Although melanoma is the rarest form of skin cancer, it is the most serious. Melanomas typically resemble moles that are raised or abnormally shaped. Caucasians and men who are over age 50 have the highest rates of melanoma, but melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in young women ages 15 to 29 due to the recent rise in the popularity of indoor tanning salons.
Skin Cancer Warning Signs
The warning signs of skin cancer can be remembered with the ABCDE rule.
- A=Asymmetry. If a mole or birthmark has one side that doesn't match the other, it needs to be evaluated by a healthcare professional.
- B=Border. Jagged, blurred, or otherwise irregular edges can be a sign of early skin cancer.
- C=Color. Seek medical attention if a mole or birthmark is not the same color all over, especially if it's shades of brown and black with hints of pink, red, blue, or white.
- D=Diameter. Any spot larger than a pencil eraser should be evaluated as a precaution.
- E=Evolving. Changes in moles and other skin spots should be taken seriously, especially if they itch, bleed, or cause any pain. Sores that don't seem to heal should also be evaluated.
Factors Leading to a Misdiagnosis
Skin cancer is often misdiagnosed as eczema or another less serious skin condition. Some of the most common reasons for this misdiagnosis include:
- The doctor fails to refer a patient to a specialist with additional training in spotting skin cancer.
- The doctor assumes cancer isn't a possibility because of the absence of a genetic history and other risk factors.
- The doctor doesn't take the time to complete a full medical exam and additional diagnostic tests.
Eligibility for Compensation
Although it's understandable to be angry if your skin cancer was initially misdiagnosed, not all cases of misdiagnosis qualify as malpractice. To be eligible for compensation under malpractice laws, you must prove that a reasonable care provider would have correctly diagnosed your skin cancer and that the delay in diagnosis caused verifiable and significant harm.
If your skin cancer was correctly diagnosed in the early stages and your treatment options were not affected, your care provider would not be guilty of malpractice. However, a longer delay that worsened your progress may lead to a malpractice claim.
Compensation in a malpractice case can include reimbursement for medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering. A skilled attorney can explain what types of compensation you may be eligible to receive based on the circumstances of your case.
The legal team at the Inland Empire Law Group has extensive experience handling malpractice claims and can assist patients who've received a skin cancer misdiagnosis. Call (888) MY IE LAW to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation at our offices in Rancho Cucamonga and Victorville.