The recent death of legendary Australian cricketer and commentator Richie Benaud from skin cancer raises the issue of how simple measures can prevent some cancers from developing.
Benaud’s many years of playing cricket in the sun without the protection of a hat may have been the cause of his skin cancer. When he began undergoing radiation therapy for the disease in November 2014 he urged others against making the same mistake and said he was paying the price for never wearing a hat or sunscreen.
“When I was a kid we never ever wore a cap. I wish I had. You live and learn as you go along,” he said. “I recommend to everyone they wear protection on their heads. Eighty-four-year-olds don’t seem to mend as well as they used to.”
One form of skin cancer, melanoma, sadly crops up regularly in the work of Slater and Gordon Lawyers’ Clinical Negligence team. It is a disease which, if diagnosed early, is usually curable but when left to develop can become fatal.
Delays of a few months are unlikely to make any difference to the outcome. However when left to develop, melanoma can grow and cancer can spread to other parts of the body.
Melanoma always occurs in the skin and although it can develop anywhere on the body the most common areas are the face, arms, legs and back.
For women, the most common area for melanoma to develop is on the legs while in men - it usually occurs on the back and chest. Unlike most moles melanoma can itch and bleed and tend to be irregular in shape and colour.
The number of people developing melanoma continues to rise in the UK with about 12,800 new melanoma cases diagnosed each year. Melanoma is slightly more common in women than in men and like most cancers it is more common in older people.
Some avoidable delays in diagnosis occur because GPs make mistakes in failing to recognise melanoma and refer patients to specialists early enough. Most of the mistakes we encounter are from pathologists misinterpreting tissue samples under the microscope.
Sadly in many of my cases, several years have passed between a patient being wrongly told a lump was harmless before it finally being diagnosed as a melanoma.
Mistakes in diagnosing melanoma can be very serious and in one recent case a woman had a lump tested in 2003 and again in 2008. On both occasions, she was wrongly told the lump was benign. But by the time her melanoma was properly diagnosed in 2013 the cancer had already spread and she tragically died last year.
In another case, a man was wrongly reassured that a lump on his foot was benign yet two years later he had to have his foot amputated.
What is particularly disturbing about these cases is that the outcomes would have been completely different had a proper diagnosis been made at the outset.
Paul Sankey is a Senior Clinical and Medical Negligence Solicitor leading the Slater and Gordon Lawyers Clinical Negligence team in London.
If you or a loved one suffered from Melanoma due to clinical or medical negligence, call Slater and Gordon Lawyers for a free consultation on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.
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