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Unusual Child Cancer, Unusual Medical Malpractice Case

As Abby Simons reports for the Star Tribune, a Minnesota girl, only five years old, is said to have only a five percent chance that she will survive her battle with a rare type of cancer that attacks children. Were it not for the doctor's delayed cancer diagnosis, her parents argue, their daughter would not be in the precarious position she finds herself in today.

A bump had been growing on the girl's body since she was born. It took a pediatric oncologist's diagnosis - one year later - to identify what exactly the bump was: alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a muscular cancer that was already in stage IV because the cancer had spread.

But her parents did not bring their medical malpractice claim against the pediatric oncologist; they brought their claim against their primary physician and the Family Practice Medical Center in Willmar, Minnesota, because it took over a year to reach that cancer diagnosis.

Presumably, the primary physician shrugged off the risk of the girl's bump, or misdiagnosed the bump entirely, and as it either grew or the girl began experiencing symptoms, her parents decided to take the next step and seek another opinion.

But, by then, their daughter was already in stage IV.

What makes this cancer misdiagnosis case unusual is the apparent ambiguity in Minnesota law: lawyers representing the doctor claim that the law only allows injured patients to sue if their odds of survival go from likely to unlikely, as Simons reports, as a direct result of delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis.

"The case involves tragic, tragic circumstances, but it also involves an extremely aggressive, rare and naturally occurring disease," said defense lawyers.

The appeals court recently allowed the case to proceed.

Spotting the Signs of Cancer

Doctors cannot always spot signs of cancer; the signs simply may not exist, leading to a delayed diagnosis that is not necessarily the doctor's fault. However, in some delayed cancer diagnosis cases, the signs were there all along - like the girl's bump - yet the doctor failed to recognize or investigate them.

Source: Star Tribune, "Will false diagnosis cost Minnesota girl her life?" by Abby Simons, 1/4/12

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