Sadly, most of us know somebody who has had or who currently suffers with cancer. For those who have had a family member or friend diagnosed with cancer, you will understand the significant effect that it can have on that person.


For most cancer sufferers, their symptoms are recognised for what they are, they are diagnosed promptly and treatment is initiated. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and the delay in diagnosing cancer can have a devastating effect on a person.


To be able to bring a medical negligence claim for a delay in diagnosing cancer, we will need to be able to show two things. Firstly, that the symptoms were such that further investigation should have been performed and/or the results interpreted to reach the correct diagnosis. Secondly, the delay in diagnosing the cancer has had a negative impact on that person either with their pain and suffering or their prognosis.


There are many different types of cancer that present in different ways and grow at different rates. There is no hard and fast rule that covers all cancers, but there are national guidelines put in place to help doctors and nurses identify when referrals to specialists should be made.


The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence have produced a number of guidelines on when to refer a person on for suspected cancer. For example, in the guideline for suspected breast cancer they recommend that any women aged 50 or over presenting with a discharging nipple, inverted nipple or change to the nipple should be referred on to a breast surgeon on an urgent basis so they are seen within 2 weeks.


Likewise, if a person aged 40 or over presents with weight loss and abdominal pain, they should be referred on under the urgent 2 week suspected colorectal cancer referral to gastroenterologist or colorectal specialist.


Here’s an example of the types of cases our solicitors have worked on:


  • A practice nurse failure to refer a middle- aged lady on to a breast surgeon when she presented with a breast lump that caused her nipple to invert.
  • A radiology failure to identify a tumour on the lung of a man who had a chest x-ray because he had a persistent cough.


  • The GP failure to refer a young lady on who had an unusual pelvic cancer but her symptoms suggested that she had a sinister cause and needed further investigation.
  • A GP failure to refer an elderly lady on for suspected bowel cancer despite having altered bowel habit, bloating and blood in her stools.

The effect that a delay in diagnosing the cancer will have on a person, will vary according to the length of the delay, the location of the cancer and the grade of the cancer. For some people, the delay may not have a significant effect on them. For others however, it can be the difference between having curative treatment and their prognosis being terminal.


We understand that this is a difficult subject for people to talk about. If you feel that there may have been a delay in diagnosing your cancer, please contact our medical negligence solicitors to discuss it further.