Breast cancer issues highlighted in awareness month

07 October 2022

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and that provides an opportunity to reflect on what has become the most common cancer worldwide.

In the UK alone, there are more than 56,000 cases of breast cancer every year, which tragically equates to 150 people being diagnosed every day.

Here at Higgs LLP, our medical negligence and personal injury teams stand ready to support those who require legal support around breast cancer diagnosis.

Clare Langford, a Partner in the medical negligence team, recently handled one such case for Veronica Gunn who sadly passed away in March this year, 33 years after being first diagnosed with breast cancer.

Initial treatment was successful back in the late 1980s but, in January 2003, a lump was found on her breast and she was urgently referred to the breast clinic by her GP.

Two months later, she underwent node removal but subsequently complained of back and neck pain which persisted.

An MRI scan showed no evidence of a spread of her cancer and, in 2005, she underwent a bone scan which was reported as normal.

Exactly a decade later, Ms Gunn returned to the GP with back pain.

She was seen in the breast screening clinic where a mammogram identified a pre-cancerous area of growth in the left breast for which she underwent a mastectomy.

This did little to address her ongoing back and neck pain so she was referred to a spinal surgeon and a neurosurgeon.

This referral was not received and so Ms Gunn continued to live with this pain, with her GP recommending daily paracetamol.

In October 2016, she went to her GP with chest pain radiating from her back. She was referred to cardiology, although she had no history of coronary artery disease. She also underwent a thoracic spine and chest x-ray, which was said to be normal.

Ms Gunn continued to complain to her GP of spinal pain and, although x-rays showed no vertebral collapse, she was referred to a physiotherapist who stated no further treatment was required.

However, in December 2016, Ms Gunn collapsed while out walking.

She was taken to A&E and underwent a series of investigations which found that cancer had spread to her back, putting pressure on her spine, and was also present on her left rib. This cancer had a severe impact on Ms Gunn’s life, inhibiting her mobility and her ability to live independently.

Higgs LLP argued that, given Ms Gunn’s previous history of cancer, a ‘triple test’ should have been performed in 2003. This test would have resulted in a mastectomy being performed, which could have prevented the recurrence of breast cancer in 2013 and, therefore, the spread of the cancer to her spine.

Ms Gunn sadly passed away this March and Higgs was successful in securing a settlement of £62,500 on behalf of her estate.

Ms Gunn’s daughter said: “Clare Langford was compassionate and gave sound advice within her handling of the claim. The matter was quite complex on causation and Clare was able to secure a settlement in memory of my late mother in an effective manner.”

Clare added: “Sadly as medical negligence lawyers, our team sees many cases involving delays in diagnoses of breast cancer.  Early diagnosis is key to successfully fighting the disease.  Higgs will be supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month by taking part in the Wear it Pink at Work event and raising as much money as possible for this important cause.”

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