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Teenage Cancer Victim Told to “Stop Googling your symptoms.”

A teenager who begged doctors to take her health concerns more seriously in the months leading up to her death from cancer was told to "stop Googling” her symptoms. 

After complaining of severe stomach pains in September 2011, the 19-year-old woman began researching past cases online and became convinced she was dying from a rare form of liver cancer.

But when she told doctors about her fears her symptoms were cancer-related, they dismissed her concerns and told her to stop searching the internet for information.

As her health deteriorated in the months leading up to her death in March 2013, a series of text messages, tweets and personal diary entries recorded her concerns about dying because doctors were dismissing her fears.

After begging to be taken seriously, the young woman was finally admitted to hospital but tragically died just 10 days later from fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma – a disease that only affects 200 people worldwide each year.

Following her death, the young woman’s mother criticised the “woeful lack of care and empathy” her daughter experienced from doctors and described how referrals were delayed, pain relief was denied, and efforts made by her family to research the disease were handled in an “evasive and aloof” manner.

Following surgery, doctors reportedly informed the woman she would survive and that she had nothing to worry about. However, her family discovered via their own online research that there was a high chance the cancer would return.

Sadly, it is clear that in this case, the care this woman received fell way short of acceptable standards. Going forward, it is vital that lessons are learned and that health chiefs from the trust concerned work on improving how doctors communicate with patients.

We can now access an almost unlimited amount of information online about health conditions and possible treatments. When the information available is accurate it can obviously be tremendously helpful. It is important to acknowledge, however, that online self-diagnosis can sometimes cause people to fear the worst as many sites are inaccurate and misleading and can either give patients false hope or cause them further distress.

If this young woman’s fears had been taken more seriously and she had been referred and correctly diagnosed when she first raised her concerns, she may have survived her condition and been spared the months of distress both herself and her family were put through.

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust admitted they "did not listen with sufficient attention," and that they must embrace the "internet age".

Stephen Jones is a Senior Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.

If you or a loved one have had a late diagnosis of cancer due to clinical or medical negligence, call Slater and Gordon Lawyers for a free consultation on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.

Another blog by Slater and Gordon Lawyers regarding googling suspected cancer symptoms can be found here.

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