Last year, almost 218,000 men in the United States developed new cases of prostate cancer, and the disease caused some 32,000 deaths.

The prostate is a small male reproductive gland located in the pelvis beneath the bladder. Prostate cancer occurs when abnormal prostate cells begin to divide and grow uncontrollably; this growth can cause constricted urine flow, pelvic or back pain, or bloody urine. However, symptoms rarely develop until prostate cancer has entered an advanced stage, at which point it may or may not be treatable. As such, screening for prostate cancer can be crucial in detecting and eradicating abnormal cell growth before it becomes life-threatening.

Screening Guidelines

For men of a certain age, checking for prostate cancer should be a regular part of their medical routine, and it is especially important for men at an elevated risk.

Results from a prostate-specific antigen ("PSA") test are often the first indicator of prostate cancer. PSA is a protein produced naturally by the prostate. But, cancerous prostate cells typically churn out much more PSA than healthy cells, so a blood test that reveals unusually high PSA levels is often an early cancer warning sign.

A digital rectal exam (DRE) is another cancer-detecting tool. In this procedure, a doctor inserts his or her finger into the rectum to feel for any atypical prostate characteristics. While a DRE is fairly invasive, it is safe, simple, and expedient.

Since neither a PSA test nor a DRE is foolproof, they should be performed in concert to ensure prostate cancer is not missed. If either of these tests indicates possible cancerous growth, a biopsy may be performed to make a full diagnosis and to learn more about any tumors that are found to be present. A biopsy involves the removal of tissue for external examination.

Different organizations have widely varying recommendations for prostate cancer screening. In general, men should discuss the benefits of prostate cancer screening with their doctors starting at age 50 (the odds of developing prostate cancer skyrocket after this age). But, the option to undergo PSA testing begins at age 40, and many men could benefit from earlier testing. If one or more of your family members was diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 65, you are at a heightened risk. In addition, African American men, men with a high fat diet, and obese men are more likely to develop prostate cancer.

Since prostate cancer treatment is much more effective if the illness is detected early on, regular testing is encouraged by many health groups for all men between the ages of 40 and 75.

Physician Oversights

Unfortunately, if doctors are careless or overly hurried, mistakes can be made in the prostate cancer screening process that often have disastrous consequences. The nature of a DRE inherently involves a wide margin for human error. In addition, PSA test results can be difficult to interpret without proper follow-up.

Sometimes, high PSA levels are caused by conditions that are not cancer, such as a prostate infection. Other times, cancer can be present without having much effect on PSA levels, especially when a tumor grows rapidly. Determining whether the raw number of a PSA score could indicate cancerous growth depends on a complicated interplay among many factors, including your age, your use of certain medications, the rate at which PSA levels are changing, and the relative size of the prostate. Teasing out the meaning of a PSA score can be very complicated, and it is easy for doctors without sufficient experience to get it wrong.

It is the duty of your physician to perform prostate cancer screening tests effectively, to conduct appropriate follow-up inquiries in light of test results, and to keep you well-informed regarding any information that could have an effect on your health. If your health care provider's mistakes meant you were unable to detect your prostate cancer early, you may have a legal claim for medical malpractice.

Failure to diagnose prostate cancer can be a viable medical malpractice cause of action if your doctor was negligent in providing you with care and that negligence caused you harm. But, even if your cancer was missed, it does not necessarily mean your doctor is liable; sometimes, it is impossible for even the best, most thorough physicians to come up with a perfect diagnosis in the early stages of prostate cancer.

The key consideration is whether your doctor lived up to the applicable standard of care. In the medical community, there is an agreed-upon protocol for dealing with certain conditions and test results. Falling below the minimal standards in making a diagnosis could mean an actionable instance of failure to diagnose.

Did your doctor follow up on inconclusive or confusing PSA test results? Did he or she keep you informed and allow you the opportunity to seek the benefits of additional testing? Were your pathology reports and medical records sufficiently reviewed? If your physician's shortcoming in these or other areas contributed to a failure to diagnose, you may have good chances at a recovery in court.

Seek Legal Assistance

Detecting prostate cancer during its early phases is essential in order to receive the best, most effective treatment. When your health or the health of a loved one is on the line, doctors should be held accountable for failing to provide the quality care their patients deserve. If delayed diagnosis of prostate cancer has affected your life, call 212-986-2022 or contact Smiley & Smiley, LLP online. We are medical malpractice attorneys with experience pursuing claims of medical malpractice against doctors who negligently delay diagnosis of prostate cancer.