Significance of Family History in Delayed Cancer Diagnosis

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If cancer diagnosis is delayed due to family history errors in NJ, what are my legal options?

You may wonder why your doctor’s office has you fill out forms asking about diseases your relatives have had. Family history provides indications to physicians about some diseases and conditions, perhaps the most extreme of which is cancer. As such, it is invaluable for those seeking medical care and those providing it, to understand the significance and impact of comprehensive family histories in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Equally imperative is determining your legal options if you or someone close to you experienced delayed or missed cancer as a result of family history-related errors.

Understanding Family History in the Realm of Cancer

How Does Family History Contribute to Prevalence or Likelihood of Occurrence in an Individual?

Although heredity is not the number one cause of cancer (5-10% of cancer cases), family history is essential to the diagnosis, cause, treatment, and risk assessment of the disease, which is a critical concern for individuals and doctors. Patient records provide information about the recurrence of certain cancers in families that pass along a specific cancer-carrying gene or mutation.

What Family Members are Included in One’s Family History for Cancer Purposes?

Typically, medical offices want to know about conditions your parents, grandparents, or siblings had when you are a new patient. However, when it comes to a cancer diagnosis, family history, not only of your parents, but also your grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and children, is essential to strengthen a diagnosis and cause of cancer.

To help narrow a cancer diagnosis, a physician reviews the family history of first, second, and third degree relatives.Your parents, siblings, and children are first degree relatives, while your grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews are second degree. Cousins and great-grandparents are third degree. Tracing cancer in all of these relatives provides a wealth of information and direction for physicians.

What Does a Comprehensive Family History Look Like for Cancer Diagnosis?

To arrive at an accurate and timely diagnosis of cancer, a comprehensive family history is invaluable. This is not simply who had cancer, but relevant details including which relatives had cancer, the types of cancers they had, the age of a cancer diagnosis, the outcome (death or survival), the cause of death, and age they died.

Another family history trait that your doctor should know about is ancestry. When you are of Ashkenazi or Eastern European descent, you carry a higher risk for certain cancers associated with genetic mutations. For instance, Ashkenazi Jews are more likely to inherit BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations linked to breast cancer, skin cancer, pancreatic cancer, ovarian, and prostate cancers.

In fact, 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews have the BRACA mutation compared to 1 in 400 of the general population. Two other genetic mutations cause colon cancer and other gastrointestinal cancers in this population, APC and HNPCC, which places this population at twice the risk for these cancers than the general population.

Is Family History More Important for Certain Cancers?

Certain cancers that run in the family may increase your risk of getting cancer. So, how does a doctor know which cancers are genetic? Older adults tend to get cancer more often because of the cumulative effects of lifestyle and environmental factors. Exposure to chemicals, sun, smoke, and alcohol over the years may result in cancer later in life. However, if your family has one or more relatives with breast cancer, uterine cancer, or colorectal cancer at a younger age, specifically before 50, a physician may conclude that genetics may place you at a higher risk for getting one of those cancers.

Even if two or more relatives had one of those cancers, regardless of age, your physician will consider that in the higher risk category. As such, women with mothers, aunts, or grandmothers with breast cancer may prompt a physician to recommend more frequent and more in-depth breast cancer screenings for a patient. It may also prompt a physician to refer you to a genetic counselor for testing. Moreover, a male relative with breast cancer is notable for assessing risk for relatives.

Ovarian cancer is another type where family history matters. When a relative has or had ovarian cancer, a physician will want to test you for genetic mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes that help with identifying and even preventing people from developing cancer. If those genes are defective, the likelihood of contracting breast, ovarian cancer, or other cancers is increased. A mutation in those genes also increases the risk of passing the mutation down.

The Pivotal Role of Genetic Counseling and Testing in Cancer Diagnosis

Knowing this background information, your doctor may recommend genetic counseling and testing. Testing your blood or saliva to find mutations in your DNA helps assess cancer risk and what to do about the testing results. If you find out that you have a genetic mutation, you and your doctor may decide the best course for prevention, such as more frequent cancer screenings and more specific tests designed to detect certain cancers.

Your doctor may also recommend and help you reduce lifestyle and environmental factors that may contribute to cancer, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or obesity. Your doctor may prescribe a diet and exercise plan to help you reduce your cancer risk. Some women may also opt for a preemptive mastectomy to reduce the likelihood of developing breast cancer.

When Family History may be Linked to Cancer-Related Medical Negligence

In sum, assessing whether a patient has a genetic predisposition to cancer, meaning they are more likely to develop cancer and at an early age, is crucially linked to family history. It is the first place that a doctor may look for clues in diagnosing cancer. Thus, careful doctors ascertain family history and update it if their patients report new relatives who receive cancer diagnoses.

If doctors do not take a complete and accurate family history, they place a patient at risk for undiagnosed cancer or delayed diagnosis. This vital step in the cancer diagnosis process provides ample opportunities to monitor, prevent, and take immediate action to treat the disease.

Without complete, correct, and updated medical history, a doctor may order the wrong tests, attribute symptoms to a less dangerous condition than cancer, or diagnose the wrong cancer. They may also misdiagnose cancer when they fail to record genetic information from testing or screening that would inform them about certain hereditary cancers. That could be deadly when individuals suffer from fast-growing cancers or those that are hard to detect early, such as ovarian cancer.

When a thorough medical history reveals a specific potential cancer threat, not recommending and completing appropriate testing for that cancer may constitute medical negligence. Failure to take the appropriate action after diagnostic tests may also form the basis of a medical malpractice claim. However, the legal requirements and complexities of cancer-related negligence cases are vast and varied, which is why consulting a knowledgeable medical malpractice lawyer is so important.

Talk to a Lawyer about Concerns over Family History Errors in Diagnosing Cancer in NJ

If you suspect that you or your loved one suffered protracted treatment for cancer that could have been diagnosed earlier with proper attention and information, contact the medical malpractice legal team at Fronzuto Law Group to address your concerns and further investigate possible negligence in your case. Our trusted attorneys help clients throughout New Jersey facing unnecessary harm due to medical mistakes and inadequacies on the part of doctors, nurses, hospitals, and other medical facilities. You can reach out to our legal team anytime online or by contacting (973)-435-4551 for immediate assistance. We are pleased to provide you with a free consultation.

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