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Skin Cancer and How It Can Be Misdiagnosed

November 16, 2017


Recently, a Pittsburgh woman went to her doctor about a small skin growth on her forehead. Her dermatologist told her that it was nothing. Within a year, the growth spread across her forehead. She learned she had stage 3A melanoma. Later, she lamented the trust she placed in the first doctor’s assessment of her condition.

Skin cancer may be difficult for some medical providers to diagnose. Unfortunately, some types of skin cancer, if left untreated, can spread or cause death. It’s important for the provider to catch skin cancer in its early stages so that the patient can begin treatment as soon as possible.

As the most common cancer in the United States, skin cancer is also frequently misdiagnosed. It develops when the body’s DNA mutates and cells don’t reproduce normally. Exposure to the sun’s rays (or other forms of ultraviolet light) is the most common cause of skin cancer. Other factors, including reduced immunity or exposure to toxins, can increase the individual’s risk of skin cancer.

Typically, this form of cancer begins in the individual’s top skin layer, the epidermis. Catching any kind of cancer in the earliest stages is considered the best way to stop cancer from spreading.

Because there are three types of skin cells in the epidermis, there are three different types of skin cancer, including basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma:

1.) Basal cell carcinoma: is considered the most common skin cancer type. Basal cells line the epidermis’ deepest layer. Basal cell carcinoma may cause sores or lesions to appear on the skin. Although this form of skin cancer may be disfiguring, it usually grows slowly and doesn’t spread from the original site. However, in rare cases, basal cell carcinoma can metastasize and even cause death.

2.) Squamous cell carcinoma: is the second most common skin cancer type. Actinic keratosis, or growth of the skin used to defend the organ against UV light exposure, may advance to squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated. Squamous cell lesions resemble sores or warts. They can appear anywhere on the body, so it’s important to consult a doctor or dermatologist if a suspicious skin growth appears.

3.) Melanoma: is considered the rarest skin cancer type. It causes more deaths than any other skin cancer. If caught early, melanoma is curable. Melanoma looks like a mole, but may be purple, brown, pink, red, or blue in color. It’s important to consult a doctor if a new or existing mole is abnormally shaped or raised.

Skin cancer is often misdiagnosed by doctors. It may be diagnosed as a less serious disease, such as eczema. A misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or failure to diagnose may be extremely dangerous, because skin cancer may progress without treatment.

Doctors may miss skin cancer or incorrectly diagnose it if they base the diagnosis on the patient’s risk factors or family history; if they don’t recommend additional tests and diagnose based on just visible signs; or they don’t refer the patient to a specialist, such as a dermatopathologist. The patient’s managed care plan might also limit the provider from choosing where to send his or her tissue samples for testing.

If a patient’s skin cancer condition worsened because his or her physician misdiagnosed or delayed diagnosis, the primary care doctor, dermatologist, or another provider may be liable. Skin cancer may have severe or even fatal consequences, so the physician must be alert for the early signs to treat the condition as soon as possible. If a doctor fails to diagnose a patient’s skin cancer condition because he or she is incompetent, or because of financial limitations or concerns, the patient may suffer.

Reaching out to an experienced skin cancer misdiagnosis doctor in Pittsburgh can be the first step in getting compensation for a provider’s negligent skin cancer misdiagnosis. Contact Berger Lagnese & Paul, LLC at 412-471-4300 or via our online contact form to discuss your potential case now.


The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney/client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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