Failure to Detect Colon and Rectal Cancer—Another Insidious Killer

Colon and rectal cancer is another type of insidious (subtle/imperceptible) disease. While there are never any guarantees, proper screening for colon and rectal cancer can be an effective method for ensuring that there will be timely medical intervention. Timeliness is the key to be able to successfully treat the disease,  and to prevent undesirable outcomes that may involve permanent ostomy surgery and perhaps death.

Colorectal cancer is the third most prevalent form of cancer among men and women, with an estimated 150,000 new cases diagnosed each year. The expected number of annual deaths is approximately 55,000. Over the last several years, the death rate has been decreasing, largely due to advances in early detection and treatment modalities (methods).

Typically, colorectal cancer  develops slowly, over the course of several years, and its symptoms will depend upon the location of the cancer. A colorectal cancer generally begins growth as a polyp, and the removal of the polyp may effectively cure the potential for cancer.

Proper screening for colorectal cancer may reduce deaths by as much as 70%. Very early screening is accomplished with the Fecal Occult Blood Test, which assesses traces of blood in the feces. This test is routinely administered through your doctor’s office using a test that the patient uses at home. The test will likely reveal overt signs of blood in the feces. A positive test should be followed by a colonoscopy. Another test that can be performed is the Fecal Immunochemical Test. Further clinical examination can be performed in the doctor’s office with a flexible sigmoidoscopy. This scope can be used to visualize the entire rectum (about 2 feet), but it is incapable of examining the colon. The colon can be examined only by colonoscopy.

Family history is a very important determinative factor in screening for cancer. Family history may be indicative of a hereditary trait that can lead to colorectal cancer; therefore, family history is very important to your doctor. You should be accurate and your physician should be diligent in following-up where family history so indicates. If there is a family history of Lynch syndrome, the standard of care would require a screening colonoscopy every 1 to 2 years starting at age 21. Others without family history of colon cancer should begin screening with colonoscopy by age 50. Other colorectal cancers are caused by spontaneous (rather than inherited) gene mutations. Also, some studies demonstrate that women on hormonal replacement therapy (“HRT”) are less likely to develop cancer, but those women on HRT are more likely to experience aggressive growth of cancer if it is present, thus creating greater risk of death. Genetic testing may also help determine which members of a family with a family history of colorectal cancer are at greater risk.

Ashkenazi Jews with l1307K APC gene mutation are at a slightly greater risk of developing colorectal cancer, and the increased risk has been associated with the need for earlier and more regularized screening than in normal adults.

The American Cancer Society provides a very thorough and easily understandable summary of the recommended standards for screening for colorectal cancer:

If you or a loved one has had the misfortune of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and after reviewing this material together with the standards of the American Cancer Society, you believe that your physician has failed to take a proper family history; has taken a family history and has failed to follow screening guideline; has failed to recommend other standard screening tests such as the Fecal Occult Blood Test, flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy; has delayed in ordering such tests; or has failed to promptly investigate complaints of blood in your stool, then you may have reason to contact our medical malpractice lawyers in Stamford, Connecticut. Our attorneys can have your medical records reviewed to determine if your physician has deviated from the accepted standard of care and put you or your loved one in peril.

For further information on colorectal cancer, please refer to the following web sites: