Delayed Diagnosis of Cancer: Do I Have a Medical Negligence Claim?


  • What is a Misdiagnosis?
  • What is a Delayed Diagnosis?
  • Delayed Diagnosis and Medical Negligence
  • Delayed Diagnosis of Cancer
  •  What do you do if you’ve been Misdiagnosed?

What is a misdiagnosis?

If a medical professional fails to diagnose a medical condition, it is referred to as a misdiagnosis. This can occur if the wrong condition is diagnosed, or, if a doctor fails to diagnose any condition at all.

what is a delayed diagnosis?

A delayed diagnosis can occur if a medical professional fails to:

  • Refer a patient for appropriate investigation;
  • Take a patient’s medical history; or
  • Correctly diagnose an illness.

This results in a delay in the diagnosis of a condition, illness or disease.

A delayed diagnosis of any of the following could result in a worse outcome for a patient:

  • Cancer;
  • Heart attack;
  • Stroke;
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT); or
  • Mental illness.

A real-life example of this is skin cancer. A mole could be originally diagnosed as benign (non-cancerous). If left untreated, this could result in serious injury and illness and even death.

delayed diagnosis and medical negligence

A delayed diagnosis could be considered medical negligence if there is a significant difference between the treatment received and the outcome if the condition had been diagnosed at an earlier stage.

The delay in diagnosis must cause a worse clinical outcome for the patient.

delayed diagnosis of cancer

A delayed diagnosis of cancer can result in a longer illness, more aggressive treatment, or even death.

A 2016 case, Freestone v Murrumbidgee Local Health District[1], is an example of a successful medical negligence claim for delayed diagnosis of cancer.

The Plaintiff was admitted to Wagga Wagga base hospital in January 2004 with abdominal pain. They underwent a CT Scan of their abdomen, but no further investigation was done at the time by the Hospital. The Plaintiff was discharged home.

The Plaintiff was 19 years old at the time of the incident and had a history of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which she had previously received treatment for.

In 2008, the Plaintiff had another CT Scan. This scan reported a large lesion on the left kidney that was later diagnosed as a nephroblastoma, or ‘Wilm’s tumour’. It was found that the defendant, through its employees, was negligent as they failed to identify and report the mass in 2004.

The failure to report the mass meant that the Plaintiff needed to have their kidney removed, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The delayed diagnosis caused the Plaintiff to suffer more invasive and prolonged treatment, as well as a psychiatric injury. 

The Plaintiff was awarded $609,939.50 in damages:

  • Non-economic loss $136,500.00;
  • Past income loss and superannuation $78,144.00;
  • Future income loss and superannuation $250,000.00;
  • Past Care $65,295.50;
  • Future Care $50,000.00;
  • Past out of pocket expenses $5,000.00;
  • Future out of pocket expenses $25,000.00.

It is important to be diagnosed appropriately to ensure that life-threatening illnesses are treated early. Early identification and treatment are paramount to survival.

What do you do if you’ve been misdiagnosed?

When communicating with your medical professionals:

  • Communicate any concerns about your treatment;
  • Ask questions to understand your diagnosis; and
  • If you have concerns, you should seek a second medical opinion.


If you have concerns about the treatment you or a loved one have received, you can lodge a complaint with the Office of the Health Ombudsman.

  [1] [2016] NSWDC 53.

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