Dental Malpractice – Failure to Diagnose and Treat Oral Cancer
More than 50,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer in the US every year. This is according to data from the American Cancer Society (ACS). A high percentage of these cases are initially misdiagnosed or diagnosed late, making it hard or sometimes impossible to treat.
Failure to diagnose and treat oral cancer is not an uncommon problem. Medical and dental professionals occasionally fail to notice the early symptoms. In some cases, the failure to diagnose oral cancer may rise to the level of medical malpractice giving victims the legal right to seek compensation.
Whether the failure to diagnose oral cancer rises to the level of medical (or dental) malpractice depends on several factors including whether the cancer progressed from an early stage to a late stage between the time of the missed diagnosis and the time the cancer ultimately was diagnosed. A medical malpractice claim is more likely to succeed if the failure to diagnose leads to a delay in treatment when earlier treatment could have prevented the spread of the cancer and/or resulted in a better outcome.
The importance of early detection
Oral cancer has a high death rate. This is not because it is hard to treat or there is no cure. It is simply because many cases are detected in their later stages. This is why dental professionals are trained to carry out regular screenings of their patients for oral cancer.
Advancements in the medical field are making it easier to detect oral cancer. Treatments for oral cancer have been shown to be effective when applied in the early stages. This has made early detection essential for the treatment and management of the disease. If you visit your dentist regularly, ensure that he or she performs an oral cancer screening during your visits.
The Dentist’s Responsibilities
Aside from oral cancer, it is important to visit your dentist regularly in order to maintain your oral health. Dentists recommend scheduling routine checkups every six months. These checkups should include a comprehensive examination of your mouth for detection of infections and diseases including cancer.
The dentist is responsible for ensuring that testing is done for oral cancer. Signs of oral cancer that dentists should pay attention to include:
- Painful areas
- White colored tissues
- Canker sores
If the dentist notices signs of oral cancer, it is his responsibility to notify the patient and recommend appropriate action including follow up examinations. The second step should be to get a thorough diagnosis to confirm the diagnosis. If the diagnosis is confirmed, your dentist should refer you to an oncologist or other specialist and recommend that you begin treatment to prevent the condition from worsening.
Failure to diagnose and treat
Dentists are required by law to uphold their duty of care towards their patients. Malpractice is shown when the dentist acts negligently towards a patient who visits them regularly. Oral cancer treatments are usually aggressive if administered in the late stages of cancer development. Patients are therefore likely to suffer significant damages as a result of the negligence of their dentists. Victims therefore have a right to take legal action against their dentists by suing them for malpractice.