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Colon Cancer Misdiagnosis: What You Can Do


When you or your loved one is diagnosed with colon cancer, it is a life-changing event. According to Cedars Sinai, with early detection, colon cancer can have a high survival rate. However, when colon cancer gets misdiagnosed, the harm that may result can be catastrophic.

This article will discuss what colon cancer is, ways to test for it, types of cancer misdiagnosis that can occur, and what you can do to exercise your rights in the legal system.

Is a Colon Cancer Misdiagnosis Malpractice?

Each case is unique to its facts and circumstances but when there is a misdiagnoses or a delay in treatment of colon cancer, then significant injury can occur resulting in advanced staging of the cancer, the possibility of the colon needing to be removed; requiring a temporary or permanent colostomy bag.

The two most critical factors to analyze in a potential colon cancer misdiagnosis malpractice case are: did the misdiagnosis lead to harm and was there a violation of the standard of care? For example, if colon cancer went undiagnosed, undetected, or incorrectly diagnosed, harm to the patient as noted above may result. If there were delays or errors such as the doctor failing to order the standard tests that would be consistent with symptoms, or prescribing a medication that did not work, and failing to follow up or misreading test(s) that could indicate a failure to follow the accepted standard of care. It is important to hold the offending doctor, health care provider or hospital accountable.

Proving Malpractice for a Colon Cancer Misdiagnosis

An experienced medical malpractice attorney helps you determine if you potentially have a medical malpractice cause of action by reviewing the facts and circumstances of your unique case along with medical experts to determine if the harm that you suffered rises to the level of legal malpractice. The legal team at The Villari Firm reviews medical records, witness testimony, and other documentation along with your explanation of what you experienced to help craft the best strategy for your case.

How is Colon Cancer Diagnosed?

The National Cancer Institute defines colon cancer as “Cancer that forms in the tissues of the colon (the longest part of the large intestine). Most colon cancers are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids).”

In general, many doctors recommend screening for colon cancer beginning around the age of 50, then at regular intervals after that for those without a familial history. For those with a familial history of colon cancer, screening may begin at an earlier age. Common forms of diagnostic testing for colon cancer include colonoscopy, proctoscopy, and biopsy.


The Mayo Clinic describes a colonoscopy as “an exam used to detect changes or abnormalities in the large intestine (colon) and rectum.”

Colonoscopies are done for routine screening or diagnostic procedures. The test is performed by inserting a tiny camera attached to long flexible tubing into the patient’s rectum. The doctor performing the procedure can see the inside of the colon using the camera. Polyps (or other abnormal growths) can be removed or tissue samples taken for a biopsy during the colonoscopy procedure. The patient is usually under a form of sedation for this procedure.


While it may sound similar to colonoscopy, this procedure differs significantly in several ways. In this procedure, the patient is awake while the doctor inserts a proctoscope into the rectum. The doctor can see the anal canal and rectum, but the proctoscope does not enter nor allow viewing into the large intestine (colon). Polyps and tissue removal for biopsy can be done in the anal canal and rectum during a proctoscopy.


A biopsy is the removal of suspicious cells or tissues for examination by a pathologist. In general, a pathologist is a scientist who studies the cause and effect of diseases. The pathologist reports their findings after studying the sample in their laboratory.

Types of Colon Cancer Diagnosis Errors

Medical malpractice can occur when a missed or misdiagnosis of colon cancer results in harm. In general, a missed diagnosis occurs when the cancer is not diagnosed or the diagnosis gets delayed. In contrast, a misdiagnosis occurs when colon cancer gets diagnosed as another condition or at an incorrect level.

Below are some of the most common ways that colon cancer may get misdiagnosed.


When colon cancer gets diagnosed at the wrong level, it is referred to as misclassification. When misclassification occurs, cancer can progress, become more challenging to treat and metastasize to other body parts. As a result, treatment can be much more painful and invasive, and recovery prognosis can be drastically lessened. Misclassification also refers to the identification of cancer when in actuality, the tissue is healthy.

Failure to Diagnose

Failing to take a complete patient history or dismissing symptoms can lead to a failure to diagnose. Misreading tests, ordering the wrong tests, or in some instances, tests not being done at all are the most common reasons leading to a failure in diagnosing colon cancer.

Wrong Diagnosis

A wrong diagnosis occurs when colon cancer gets diagnosed as another condition. While receiving treatment for the wrong diagnosis, colon cancer can worsen and spread. The treatment of the wrong condition may also cause harmful and unnecessary side effects to the patient. In a wrong diagnosis, the patient can potentially be worse off than if they had never sought treatment.

Delayed Diagnosis

Also known as a “late cancer diagnosis,” a delayed colon cancer diagnosis is a type of misdiagnosis. Although the correct diagnosis is eventually made, the patient may still suffer harm due to the extra time it takes to reach an accurate diagnosis.

Diagnostic Negligence

Doctors are legally and ethically responsible for providing a reasonable standard of care to their patients. Facilities conducting tests are responsible for ensuring that tests are carried out correctly, and reports are accurate. When harm results from diagnostic negligence, it may be medical malpractice.

Examples of diagnostic negligence can take many forms, such as:

  • Failing to offer or recommend routine colon cancer screening
  • Failing to order the standard tests that would be consistent with symptoms
  • Misreading test results or failing to follow up with a patient about test results
  • Failing to take a complete history of the patient, including family history
  • Prescribing a medication that did not work and failing to follow up or misreading test(s)
  • Improperly conducting a test
  • Failing to identify and remove polyps during a colonoscopy
  • Making errors in test results/reporting
  • Mixing up patient test results

Injuries Caused by Failure to Accurately Diagnose

Failing to accurately or timely diagnose colon cancer can result in catastrophic harm to the patient. Examples of harm include premature death, cancer spreading, pain, loss of bowel function, and financial hardship due to the wrong treatment.

Contact a Medical Malpractice Lawyer

The experienced medical malpractice lawyers at the Villari Firm offer a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss the facts of your case. With more than two decades of experience in fighting for the rights of medical malpractice patients, Heidi Villari and her team want to help you seek justice.

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