Settlement in Case Involving Failure to Communicate Patient’s Test Results Following Colonoscopy

Written By Melissa Jabour

Atlee Hall recently resolved a case involving the death of an 82-year-old man from metastatic colon cancer. In August 2013, the patient underwent a screening colonoscopy at a local gastroenterology practice. He had a history of colon cancer in his family. During the colonoscopy, the gastroenterologist removed a number of polyps. He also removed a “nodular area” in one particular portion of the patient’s colon. Specimens were sent to pathology for testing.

The gastroenterologist recommended that if the “nodular area” showed adenomatous tissue (which is a type of benign tissue, however, if not removed, can continue to grow and become cancerous), the patient needed to follow up in one year, rather than his usual three-year follow up. Based on the pathology results, the patient should have been told to follow up in one year for another colonoscopy.

Unfortunately, the gastroenterology practice sent the patient a letter informing him that he needed a repeat colonoscopy in three years, rather than the one year follow-up that the doctor recommended.

Three years later, the patient began having debilitating back pain. Testing revealed that he had colon cancer, which had metastasized to his spine. A colonoscopy was performed and indicated that he had a large, obstructive mass in the location of the “nodular area,” which had first been identified and biopsied during his colonoscopy three years earlier. Tragically, the patient died shortly thereafter due to his metastatic colon cancer. He is survived by his loving wife of 53 years and three children.

Plaintiff’s experts were of the opinion that had the patient been advised of the proper follow-up, i.e., one year instead of three, his cancer would have been diagnosed at that time. He would have required only the removal of a portion of his colon and no chemotherapy. Because he was not told to follow-up when he should have been, his cancer was allowed to spread, and by the time it was diagnosed, it was incurable.

Colonoscopies are routine and recommended to all adults over the age of 50 and recommended more often for those with a family history of colon cancer.  The purpose of preventative measures such as colonoscopies are to protect us from potentially more serious medical conditions. If the results are ignored or improperly communicated, there can be serious and tragic consequences. It is Atlee Hall’s mission to ensure that negligent parties are held accountable and similar tragedies can be prevented in the future.