Oncologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancerous tumors. An oncologist may further specialize in the type of location of the cancer they treat, or specialize based on the age of the patient. Subspecialties of oncology include:
- Gynecological oncology,
- Medical oncology,
- Pediatric oncology,
- Radiation oncology, and
- Surgical oncology.
Patients call upon oncologists to perform various aspects of cancer care. This includes locating cancer within the body as well as forming a plan of care so that they can shrink or remove the cancer, if it is possible. Oncologists use diagnosis and treatment modalities such as patient history, physical examination, biopsy, chemotherapy, diagnostic studies, radiation, radio-ablation, and surgery. Should an oncologist fail to order the necessary and appropriate tests, or fails to interpret a study properly, or fails to diagnose or treat cancer appropriately, then he or she could be liable for medical malpractice.
When an oncologist evaluates a patient for a specific case of cancer diagnosis and treatment, it needs to be consistent with the accepted standard of care. To determine this it is important to consider whether the physician was aware of established signs of cancer and did he or she pay sufficient attention to those signs.
The oncologist will also need to determine whether the cancer is treatable. It is important to consider whether a delay in diagnosis would alter the treatment approach. There could be certain malignancies that when they are diagnosed later in time, could require a more aggressive treatment.
Another thing to consider is whether the delay in diagnosis is accompanied by a documentable changing the cancer’s status. Tumor size has an independent prognostic factor for the curability of the cancer and the eventual outcome. When there is an increase in size due to delay in treatment, there is generally a subsequent decrease in curability.
Common oncology errors include:
- Chemotherapy drug errors,
- Failure to diagnose cancer,
- Failure to obtain clean margins,
- Failure to perform comprehensive cancer surgery, and
- Misdiagnosis of cancer.
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