Medical negligence and breast cancer – is your treatment up to date?

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Posted by Jeanette Whyman on 01 June 2020

Jeanette Whyman - Medical Negligence Solicitor
Jeanette Whyman Partner - Head of Medical Neglience

Headlines in today’s Daily Mail stated that “2.4M Caught in Covid Cancer Backlog”. It claimed that ‘screening checks, hospital appointments and vital treatment lost during the pandemic’ and was based on figures from Cancer Research UK. The article also quoted figures from the Office for National Statistics that 13,000 more people had died than expected from causes other than Covid. The speculation is that people needing treatment have been reluctant to seek it and seemingly those needing treatment have had it delayed. If you have been affected by these delays or are at all concerned about delays you have experienced, please call so we can talk you through your options.

As breast cancer is the most common types of cancer in the UK, I have explained here what should happen if you seek help, and what issues you may face.

As stated above, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK and, although survival rates are very good, it is a sad fact that it is the third biggest cause of death from cancer. It is a very well-known disease and a presentation to a GP with an unusual or new lump in the breast will usually result in an urgent referral to hospital for further investigation. Similarly, an unusual finding on a routine mammogram will also mean a referral to a specialist breast clinic.

There are three main types of cancer. The first is called ‘non-invasive’ and develops in the breast ducts and is not able to spread outside the breast; the second, and most common, is invasive breast cancer which is able to spread (but this doesn’t mean that an invasive diagnosis means it has spread); the third type is rarer and includes lobular cancer and Paget’s disease.

The symptoms suggesting breast cancer are known to many women and include a lump or lumpy area, a change in the size or shape of the breast or a change in the skin or nipple. Other signs can be discharge from the nipple, a rash or a lumpy area in the arm pit.

A referral to a breast clinic will mean investigation by way of further radiology such as a mammogram or ultrasound to ‘look’ inside the breast. A biopsy may be taken using a needle to extract cells to be examined. If any of these investigations raise concern, further investigations by way of CT, bone or MRI scans help to determine the specific type and extent of the disease which will dictate the most effective types of treatment.

Treatment takes the form of surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapies. One or a combination of these can be used.

What can go wrong?

Unfortunately, the process can break down at any point along the way. Any failure to provide safe and appropriate advice, referral, diagnosis and treatment quickly can result in a worsening of symptoms and allows the cancer to spread. This reduces the options available for treatment and can cause permanent long-term damage or a shortening of a life.

These failures can be broken down into two main groups of medical negligence: a delay in diagnosis or inappropriate treatment. The first is the basis of most of the cases I see – either the GP does not refer to a specialist clinic, there is a failure to identify a problem on a mammogram or scan, or biopsies are not reported correctly. Often in these cases, the patient believes all is well as she has undergone investigation and been told she has a clean bill of health. It is only when the symptoms don’t go away or worsen that the correct diagnosis is made. The second type of negligence, inappropriate treatment is much less common in my experience. Having said this, the most notorious case relating to negligent breast cancer treatment relates to a breast surgeon in the West Midlands who performed many surgeries and procedures on women which were either completely unnecessary or unregulated.

What to do

If you have had a diagnosis of breast cancer and you think there may have been a delay in diagnosing or treating your condition, you will be feeling a whole range of emotions, frustration, anger, upset, fear, why me?  You may be wanting answers from those who have let you down and you are probably fearful for the future. You may feel you definitely have a claim, or you may be struggling financially and need compensation. If any of this rings with you, you will need clear advice as to your rights and whether you may be able to take a claim forward.

We have experience of pursuing many breast cancer cases successfully and we can help.   If you would like a confidential discussion to explore your options, please call

About the author

Jeanette Whyman

Partner - Head of Medical Neglience

Jeanette is head of the medical compensation team, specialising in medical negligence and personal injury claims.

Jeanette Whyman

Jeanette is head of the medical compensation team, specialising in medical negligence and personal injury claims.

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