Sunday, December 11, 2011

Doctor Settles With Man After Not Doing Requested Prostate Cancer Screening by Joseph Hernandez

Statistically, men of African-American descent are at increased risk of getting prostate cancer younger than other males. Consequently, doctors generally advise that African-American males ought to be informed about screening tests available for prostate cancer earlier (the recommended age being 45) so as to raise the probability that if they do develop cancer it can be detected at an early stage before it metastasizes. By commencing earlier with African-American men screening has the potential of allowing for the detection of the cancer at an earlier and possibly curable stage. In cases where physicians fail to follow the guidelines for cancer screening andtheir patient is subsequently diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer that doctor may be liable for malpractice.

In addition to normal screening for cancer, doctors also ought to recognize and follow up when a patient has complaints suggestive of possible cancer. Physicians also should either perform screening testing requested by a patient or clearly inform him that they will not perform the test and that the patient will have to see another doctor if he still wishes to be screened. Look at the published case of a forty one year-old African-American man who had been involved in an ad campaign meant to raise awareness over the risk of prostate cancer in middle-aged males of African-American descent requested that his physician screen him for the cancer.

The physician conducted a digital examination and found no abnormalities. The physician ordered blood tests for the patient yet did not get a PSA test. The doctor failed to let the man know that no PSA test had been obtained. The patient was seen again by the same physician two years later. This time the physician did not do a physical examination of the prostate and just as before failed to order a PSA test.

What this physician did was to give the patient a false sense of security. By doing the digital examination of the prostate and ordering blood tests the physician gave the man the understanding that the physician had performed a full screening. Undoubtedly the patient believed that the lack of any communication about the results to indicate that the results must have been normal. This put him at ease with respect to whatever worries motivated him to request the screening.

Advance to later that same year. The patient goes back to the same medical practice but is seen by a different physician. This time the doctor not only performed a digital examination but also ordered a PSA test. The patient now learned that he had prostate cancer with bone metastasis. Even though the guidelines typically suggest that African-American males be at least told about screening for prostate cancer starting when they reach age forty-five, which this patient was now turning, in this case the patient had specifically asked to be screened prior to that age.

The law firm that handled this matter took it to trial and achieved a $2.75 Million jury verdict. The defense appealed and the parties settled for a confidential amount as the appeals was pending. Although the amount of the settlement was confidential it was less than the amount of the verdict. This is not an unusual way for both parties to reduce the risk of an adverse ruling by the Appeals Court. In this case the Appeals Court subsequently denied the appeal.