17 August 2011
Clinical negligence solicitor, Maria Panteli
, has secured significant compensation for the husband of a woman whose breast cancer diagnosis was delayed by more than a year, leading to her premature death. Maria was originally instructed by her late client, Sally Christian, whose husband, John Patty, continued the case to a successful conclusion.
Late diagnosis of breast cancer
Maria’s client originally went to see her GP in June 2003 after discovering a lump in her left breast. Her GP arranged for her to be seen by a Consultant surgeon and breast specialist at a private hospital. The Consultant organised a mammogram, ultrasound and a fine needle aspiration. The cytology report referred to malignant cells not being identified in the aspirate but raised the possibility that the aspirate may not be representative of the lesion, which was felt on examination, because the sample was scanty. The radiology report identified suspicious features and reported them as being of “uncertain significance”.
Sally was reviewed by the Consultant at the beginning of July 2003 who advised her that none of the tests showed any malignancy and that, although the tissue in the two breasts differed in density, this was benign breast activity and he would see her again at the end of August. He prescribed evening primrose oil at a follow up appointment at the end of August 2003.
In a letter to Sally’s GP, the Consultant wrote: “There is a little bit of density on imaging that may well have been post-instrumentation but no specific or worrying abnormality was shown.”
During the summer of 2003, Sally was invited for a mammogram under the NHS breast-screening programme, however, she was advised by the screening office that she did not need to be screened as she was already under the care of a Consultant.
In December 2003, the Consultant discharged Sally from his care, following consultation, noting in a further letter to Sally’s GP that “Both areas of change have further subsided and are not of any concern at this point.”
As Sally had been reassured by the Consultant that there was nothing sinister about the lump, she continued with her everyday life.
Positive diagnosis of cancer in September 2004
In September 2004, Sally felt generally unwell and tired. After a course of antibiotics she was referred by her GP for an abdominal ultrasound on 22 September 2004. This showed ascites within the pelvis and abdomen. There were small cysts arising from the ovaries. On 23 September 2004, Sally had a bilateral mammogram which revealed an indeterminate lesion in the left breast. Further investigations revealed bony metastases and peritoneal metastases and ascites. Sally had extensive metastatic disease which had spread from a primary breast cancer. It was agreed that surgical intervention had little benefit to offer Sally.
Sally underwent several courses of chemotherapy and, as the cancer spread to her liver and brain, whole brain radiotherapy. She died on 7 February 2008 at the age of 54.
Court proceedings were issued and served. In his defence, the Consultant denied liability. It was the claimant’s case that the Consultant had failed to adequately investigate a lesion which was clinically palpable and causing symptoms, was visible on ultrasound and mammogram and where malignancy was not definitively ruled out by cytology or x-ray. Concerns had been raised by the radiologist and pathologist who reported at the time. The Consultant should have arranged a core biopsy which would have led to a diagnosis and Sally receiving treatment for her breast cancer.
Following the exchange of expert evidence on liability, Maria successfully negotiated a settlement with the Defendant’s solicitors. There was no admission of liability.
Sally was a highly successful business woman who was involved in the development of an investment portfolio which, at the time of her death, was worth over £2m. She had formerly worked as a business manager for a number of private health services.
Maria Panteli said:
“This is a tragic case. Sally’s premature death could have been avoided had she been diagnosed and treated sooner. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and early diagnosis and treatment is crucial for survival. This case is particularly sad as the appropriate investigations were carried out but the results were not acted upon. Triple assessment (clinical assessment, imaging and cytology) is the key in breast cancer to establishing a diagnosis. Triple assessment is effective as each test is considered separately. However, it relies on all investigations and each investigation has its own value; none can be overridden unless a specific cause can be identified on biopsy for the clinical, mammographic and ultrasonographic findings. Unless all three assessments are definitively benign, further investigations are required. In Sally’s case, none of the investigations indicated that the lesion was definitely benign.”
John Patty said:
“Sally and I were very right with our decision to instruct Leigh Day, and were very grateful to Maria Panteli for dealing with our case. Maria handled the case professionally and dealt with the case with careful consideration to ourselves and we are very grateful to her. We would have no hesitation of instructing Maria in the future.”
If you have experienced a misdiagnosis or late diagnosis of breast cancer and would like to speak with a lawyer about it, please contact Maria Panteli on 020 7650 1200 for a free initial consultation.
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