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Breasts, Lemons, and Medical Malpractice

Steven E. North, Esq. and Laurence M. Deutsch, Esq.


A doctor may face a medical malpractice claim for failing to recognize, properly test and refer a patient for further breast studies when cancer or pre-cancerous lesions are discovered. But what if a woman has not followed suggested self-exam and reporting protocols and also has not owned up to her responsibility, say, for a late discovery a fast-growing lesion?

How does a woman know she might have breast cancer? These days, she can consult an illustration of a dozen lemons altered to depict different kinds of breast lesions. The visual of these sour lemons can truly result in lemonade – earlier detection – because it is such a clear, relatable reference. No wonder it has gone viral.

The adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words” applies. In a physician’s office, it is difficult to grasp and retain everything a physician says. This is true for men and women no matter what the disease is. Statistics about verbal retention suggest that it is low, for men and women regardless of the potentially life-threatening disease. Even in business, “Sell them, sell them, and sell them again” is the mantra.

Correct interpretation of mammograms and other imaging will often catch breast cancer in a curable state. But some cancers do not show up on those tests as well as others, and the physical signs of cancer may be the earliest warning sign. In those cases, the patient has a significant responsibility of her own.

Physicians must provide timely workups, evaluations, and referrals for testing or specialists as needed. Physician-directed breast exams should also occur, but they occur only once a year during a gynecological checkup, or during a scheduled mammography, which some say are not even necessary every year.

Women, therefore, are beseeched by their physicians to examine themselves for changes in their breasts, report anything unusual in a timely manner, make appointments with their physicians and follow up on these appointments.

A doctor may face a medical malpractice claim for failing to recognize, properly test and refer a patient for further breast studies when cancer or pre-cancerous lesions are discovered. But what if a woman has not followed suggested self-exam and reporting protocols and also has not owned up to her responsibility, say, for a late discovery a fast-growing lesion?

The answer is that it can dramatically undermine the success of a medical malpractice case against a physician.

Hopefully the recent explosion of interest in the “lemon breast” will provide women with a frame of reference for identifying early signs of potential cancer, which would then place the entire responsibility in the doctor’s court to take appropriate and timely action.

Source: MedScape, Breast Cancer Campaign based on Lemons Goes Viral, January 19, 2017