Did Your Doctor Miss the…

Ovarian cancer is sometimes referred to as a “silent killer,” as many of the symptoms are not obvious. For instance, if you felt a lump in your breast, you might immediately consult your doctor about the possibility of breast cancer. If you experienced bloating, one of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, you might not be alarmed, as it is a common symptom that may be caused by a number of benign conditions. However, your doctor, especially your OB/GYN, should be on the lookout for groups or “constellations” of symptoms that might, taken together, spell trouble. Did your doctor miss the signs of ovarian cancer?

While it’s true that ovarian cancer symptoms may not be as alarming as those of other ailments, it’s something of a misnomer to call them “silent.” Women, especially those in their fifties and older, should be aware of common ovarian cancer symptoms. More to the point, when an OB/GYN hears a patient report one symptom, even though it might be harmless, he or she should at least question further to see if there are any other signs or symptoms that warrant additional investigation.

And though ovarian cancer is most common in women over 50, that doesn’t mean that younger women are exempt. For instance, remember that comedian Gilda Radner tragically died at the age of 42 of advanced ovarian cancer. Her illness was diagnosed too late after her doctors attributed her complaints to other issues. By the time it was identified, it was too late to save her life. Thousands of other women have died of undiagnosed ovarian cancer. Could some of them have been saved if their doctors had been more diligent?

Signs of Ovarian Cancer That May Be Overlooked

What are some of the common signs of ovarian cancer? As noted above, many of the earliest symptoms of ovarian cancer are associated with many other conditions, and are not a reason for concern. However, if you have had any of these symptoms, you should let your doctor know:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Indigestion or nausea.
  • Changes in appetite, such as a loss of appetite or feeling full sooner than usual
  • Pressure in the pelvis or lower back
  • Needing to urinate more frequently or urgently
  • Constipation or other changes in bowel movements
  • Increased abdominal girth
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Changes in menstruation, including heavy or irregular bleeding or spotting between cycles
  • Pain during intercourse

Unfortunately, even when women report these symptoms, many physicians don’t take them seriously. They may be told that they are going through menopause, or that the symptoms are all in their head, or simply that they are nothing to worry about. In some cases, of course, one of those explanations is the correct one. But if symptoms persist for two weeks or longer, or continue to get worse, a doctor should take some measures to rule out a more serious explanation, like ovarian cancer.

Does early detection make a difference? Absolutely. While younger women fare somewhat better than older women, the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer when treated before it has spread beyond the ovary is 92%. Unfortunately, according to the American Cancer Society, only 15% of ovarian cancer falls into this category.

Unfortunately, there are no routine screening tests for women at average risk of ovarian cancer. However, if a doctor has reason to suspect that a woman may have cancer, he or she can order a transvaginal ultrasound and/or CA-125 blood test. If the results of those tests confirm a cause for concern, surgery may be ordered.

If You Believe Your Doctor Missed Your Ovarian Cancer

Because ovarian cancer symptoms can be vague, it may be challenging to hold a doctor responsible for medical malpractice for failing to diagnose it. That said, a doctor who has failed to exercise reasonable care in treating a patient may be liable for medical malpractice. That malpractice may take a couple of forms. If a doctor failed to order further tests when a reasonable doctor in the same situation would have, he or she may have breached the physician’s duty of care. Likewise, if a doctor ordered tests, but misread or misinterpreted the results, causing the patient not to receive treatment, there may be a claim for malpractice.

The best option if you think your ovarian cancer, or that of a loved one, was missed by a doctor, is to contact an experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorney. An experienced attorney can listen to the facts of your case and candidly advise you as to whether it may make sense for you to pursue a claim. The law gives you only a limited amount of time in which to make a claim for medical malpractice, so it is in your best interest to explore the possibility sooner rather than later.

Our firm handles more medical malpractice cases than any law firm in Oregon. If you have questions about whether your doctor's failure to timely diagnose and treat your ovarian cancer constitutes medical malpractice, we invite you to contact our law firm for a free initial consultation. We look forward to answering your questions.