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BRCA and Lynch Syndrome Testing Can Prevent Cancer AND Lawsuits

A February 10th article in Medical Economics tackles the issue of legal responsibility for physicians treating one of the estimated two million patients with a BRCA mutation or Lynch Syndrome. 1 in 400 Americans are carriers of the BRCA gene mutation, said to be associated with a 50-70% higher risk of developing breast cancer and a 15-64% higher risk of ovarian cancer. Lynch Syndrome, a condition linked to a 70% higher risk of colorectal cancer, is found in 1 in every 350 Americans. The condition is also associated with elevated risk of endometrial, gastrointestinal, and genitourinary cancers. The problem with these conditions is that experts believe nearly half of those who carry the BRCA gene or Lynch Syndrome will find out they have cancer without knowing previously that they are carriers, leaving medical economists to speculate that a potential legal crisis will occur when patients realize that a simple screening recommended by their physician could have ultimately prevented their cancer or saved their lives. Giving clarity to the magnitude of the potential situation, Medical Economics says that the average medical practice has 2400 patients, 6 of whom will be carriers of the BRCA mutation and 7 of whom will be found to have Lynch Syndrome.

Giving Detailed Family History Could Save Your Life
Under the Affordable Care Act, most insureds who meet a specific set of criteria are eligible for cancer and genetic screening and according to Medical Economics, millions of them have not been referred by their doctor for testing. The journal recommends physicians obtain a complete family history as it relates to cancer, using whatever method of collection will gather the most thorough information without adding to an already robust workload. In the case of obtaining a proper cancer history for each patient, experts agree that the time spent to gather the information is a worthy cause. Even allowing a patient to self-report information through an electronic questionnaire that can be imported into their electronic medical record (EMR) is beneficial.

Medical Economics addresses an important legal issue regarding physician responsibility for a potentially avoidable health crisis and even death. Lawsuits related to genetic testing and delayed diagnoses are just beginning to pop up, and the article’s authors tell the story of a 48 year old woman whose family history of cancer meant she qualified for BRCA testing, yet was never referred for it. She later was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and found to have the BRCA gene. She was awarded $4 million dollars by a jury.

The authors follow this story by stating that it would be hard to defend a doctor who doesn’t refer a patient with potential risk for BRCA or Lynch Syndrome because not only are these tests usually fully covered under the ACA, but they are also strongly endorsed by many major medical organizations.

If you were diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer and found to have the BRCA gene, or you were diagnosed with a colorectal cancer or other cancer linked to Lynch Syndrome and believe your family history should have signaled your need for genetic testing to your physician, please contact the medical malpractice attorneys of Chicago’s Levin & Perconti. For nearly 30 years, our attorneys have successfully represented numerous victims of missed or delayed cancer diagnoses, including a $14 million verdict for a delayed lung cancer diagnosis.

Please contact our medical malpractice attorneys for a free consultation now by calling 312-332-2872 or by completing our online case evaluation form.