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Cancer Misdiagnosis

Delay in Tongue Cancer Diagnosis

Marie's tongue cancer was repeatedly missed by medical professionals, a delay which ultimately cost Marie her life.

When Marie began to notice that her tongue was swollen, it was affecting her speech and she also found it hard to swallow, so that food often got stuck in her throat.

She was worried that she had mouth cancer, so she sought advice from her GP. She was initially prescribed painkillers, but this did not alleviate her symptoms, so she visited the GP twice more the following month.

Marie was then urgently referred to an ENT specialist who undertook various tests. The consultant believed her problems were due to a TMJ dysfunction, which is when there is pain in the jaw. She was referred on to a gastroenterologist.

The gastroenterologist reviewed Marie in November, who noted symptoms such as reduced movement in the tongue, the tongue deviating to the left and reduced gag reflex. She was subsequently referred on to a neurologist.

When the neurologist saw Marie, he considered that her symptoms indicated an urgent MRI scan, as she had progressive difficulty swallowing, poor speech, numbness in the left-hand side of the face, swelling behind the ear, tongue atrophy and absent gag reflexes.

The MRI scan was carried out shortly afterwards, showing what appeared to be a schwannoma affecting the 12th nerve in the left side of the face. She was referred yet again, this time to a neurosurgeon.

Throughout this time, Marie remained convinced that she had mouth cancer. However, none of the clinicians listened to her, instead fixating on the lump on her nerve. The consultant neurosurgeon recognised a small lesion in her neck and referred her back to neurology.

Marie remained under the care of the neurologists for the next 14 months. She underwent various tests and examinations as she had a lesion in her neck and enlarged lymph nodes. All along, she was reassured that it was benign and there was nothing to worry about.

Because Marie's symptoms did not improve, she was re-referred back to the ENT consultant. He noted a right-sided neck lump and arranged a CT scan and biopsy. These tests did not confirm a diagnosis, so they were continually repeated throughout the remainder of the year.

Eventually, three years after her initial visit to her GP, Marie was told that in actual fact she had tongue cancer which had spread to the lymph nodes. She underwent treatment in the form of chemo-radiotherapy. Sadly this did not contain the cancer and it spread to her mouth.

Marie deteriorated rapidly over the next nine months, enduring great suffering before finally passing away in a hospice.

After her death, Marie's widower contacted us to discuss the care she had received. We advised that a diagnosis of tongue cancer should have been made a year earlier than it had been. This would have meant the cancer was treated in the early stages, making it much more likely that Marie would have survived.

We helped the family pursue a claim for the negligent care Marie received. They were awarded over £18,000 compensation.

(Details which might identify our client have been changed.)

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