The good news is that death rates from cancer are very gradually falling, as diagnosis and treatment improves. The bad news is that the incidence of cancer in the UK is rising but perhaps not surprisingly as we are generally living longer.
153,800 men and 152,300 women were told they had cancer each year from 2006 to 2008 (statistics which have only just been published), a rise of about just under 1%. Breast cancer for women and prostate cancer for men remain the most common.
What is still concerning is that our survival rates are worse than our European neighbours. It seems that diagnosis often takes place later here and treatment is less effective as a result. This may not be the fault of doctors: it is possible that patients are less inclined to see their GP and slower to report symptoms. But there are also cases where doctors make mistakes.
A large part of my practice concerns people diagnosed late because of medical errors. I have cases for people whose breast and lung cancer was missed because x-rays, CT scan and mammograms were misinterpreted, someone whose bowel cancer was not treated because a GP’s referral letter was never sent and someone whose bone scan was ignored.
I recently resolved a claim for a woman whose smear test was misinterpreted and another where melanoma (skin cancer) was missed by the pathologist doing a biopsy. These are often difficult and complex cases but the common thread is that the human stories behind them are tragic.
My view may be skewed because I see the things that go wrong. However alongside some improvement in survival rates we still know from other countries that we are not doing as well as we could and people suffer unnecessarily as a result.
Paul Sankey is a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. If you or a member of your family have a clinical negligence enquiry please call our expert clinical negligence solicitors on 0800 916 9049, fill in our short online claim form and one of our specialist clinical negligence team will be in touch.