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Settlement for Failure to Diagnose Oral Cancer

Jaime Jackson

Atlee Hall partners, Jaime Jackson and Robin Jabour recently settled a medical malpractice action against an oral surgeon for not timely diagnosing and treating our client’s oral cancer.

About 35,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year, and about 7600 men and women die each year of oral cancer, that is, roughly 1 person per hour, 24 hours a day. Of those people diagnosed only slightly more than half survive five years.

Our client was initially referred to the oral surgeon by his dentist because of concerns about a white lesion observed on the floor of his moth. The lesion was biopsied and the pathology report came back showing abnormal pre-cancerous cells, and that not all the abnormal pre-cancerous cells were removed. A second biopsy was performed in an attempt to obtain “clean margins”, in other words remove all of the abnormal pre-cancerous cells. However, again biopsy results showed not all the abnormal pre-cancerous cells were removed. Rather than go back and remove all the abnormal cells, the doctor chose to “watch” the patient. The doctor never told the patient he did not get all the abnormal cells.

Under the oral surgeons care the abnormal cells progressed from Stage 0 carcinoma-in-situ (pre-cancer) to Stage IVa invasive squamous cell carcinoma (full blown cancer) over a period of four years, ultimately requiring removal of a portion of our client’s jaw, extensive reconstructive surgery, and significant loss of chance of survival, all of which could have been prevented had the doctor removed the abnormal pre-cancerous cells/tissue when he had multiple opportunities to do so. Had the doctor been paying proper attention to his patient, there were warning signs over the follow up visits, such as the return of concerning white lesions, and changes in the lesion, however, the area was never biopsied again for more than three and a half years.

The case settled following mediation and just before trial. Atlee Hall worked with the client’s treating physicians as well as several highly regarded experts from around the country in the fields of oral surgery, oral pathology and cancer. A timeline was constructed to show the jury and tell the story of the delay in diagnosing and treating the cancer. Many medical illustrations were utilized to show the nature and extent of the multiple surgeries to remove a portion of the jaw, replacing the bone removed with bone from the client’s femur and a metal plate.

Atlee Hall was proud to represent such wonderful and optimistic clients. Hopefully, this oral surgeon and others like him will learn from this experience and follow the patient safety rules, so this does not happen again to someone else:

Safety Rule No. 1

A diagnosis of severe pre-cancerous cells requires complete removal or destruction to prevent harm to patients.

Safety Rule No. 2

A diagnosis of severe pre-cancerous cells requires a doctor to keep careful watch for possible danger to prevent harm to patients

Safety Rule No. 3

A doctor must tell the patient the truth to prevent harm to patients.

 

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