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Failure to diagnose oral cancer

When you go to the dentist for a check-up, the dentist should do much more than just check your teeth. The dentist has a duty of care to check the soft tissues of the mouth and lips for health and for any unusual symptoms. Many people do not even realise that cancer can develop in the mouth. 

Although mouth cancer is less common than many other types of cancer, if left undiagnosed and untreated, it can lead to serious illness, disability and death.  The earlier oral cancer is diagnosed and an urgent referral to a specialist made, the better.

What is cancer misdiagnosis?

Misdiagnosis of cancer can occur in several situations. The most common situations are where the cancer is not detected as early as it could have been and where cancer is diagnosed where it is not actually present.

Cancer is generally easier to treat in the earliest stages either by operation or a course of treatment. If cancer is not detected until a later stage then this can result in further treatment being required and in the worst case the cancer being at a stage where it is untreatable.

Where cancer is diagnosed where it is not present, this can result in psychological problems as well as receiving unnecessary treatment and even surgery. It may also leave original symptoms and related problems untreated.

Long-term support and care

The effects of misdiagnosis of cancer vary greatly from requiring mental health support for anxiety, to death due to untimely diagnosis and treatment. Psychological disorders can remain long term as a result of false diagnosis which may result in you requiring medication and therapy. Late diagnosis may result in surgery which can physically and psychologically affect you.

We have a wide range of contacts with organisations that can assist you and can work closely with you. These include:

  • Case managers who will assess and organise any support and care you may need;

  • Support workers who will visit you on a regular basis to provide you support and help;

  • Community rehabilitation such as occupational therapy.

Can I claim compensation for misdiagnosis or late diagnosis of cancer?

We may be able to help you with a claim for compensation where:

  • you have been delayed treatment as a result of late diagnosis where there is reason to believe it ought to have been noticed earlier;

  • your rehabilitation needs are greater than they would otherwise have needed to be.  For example, if you have lost many teeth or parts of the jaw which would not have been lost had the cancer been diagnosed and treated at an earlier stage;

  • your relative has died as a result of late diagnosis resulting in treatment being unavailable.


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