Melanoma is a type of skin cancer which develops in the cells that produce melanin which is the pigment that gives skin its colour. While the cause of melanoma is not entirely clear it is widely accepted that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the Sun or indeed from tanning beds increases the risk of a person developing melanoma. Approximately 1,200 people in Ireland are diagnosed each year with melanoma skin cancer. There are various types of melanoma which can be broadly divided into in situ melanomas and invasive melanoma. The first category can be further subdivided into superficial spreading melanoma which is the most common type and will grow on the surface of the skin often on the legs, chest or back and it may grow out of a mole that has suddenly changed. Then there is lentigo melanoma, which is more commonly diagnosed in older people, usually on the face or on the neck which can begin as a small brown freckle which gradually grows and develops into a bumpy surface. This process can take many years, and then there is acral melanoma which is more normally found on the palm of the hands, soles of the feet or around the fingers or toenails.
The second general category of invasive melanoma which is potentially a more serious type, and this has developed much deeper into the skin and in some cases may have spread to other parts of the body. Diagnosis of melanoma can take a number of forms. Firstly, the doctor will perform a physical examination of the skin to look for signs of melanoma. Further, a doctor may have a biopsy taken either an excisional biopsy or punch biopsy which essentially removes off the suspicious skin lesion for laboratory testing.
If there is a diagnosis of melanoma then the next step would be to determine the stage (extent) of the cancer. Usually, the thickness or depth of the melanoma when measured will help decide a treatment plan. Generally speaking the thicker the tumour, the more serious and thinner melanomas themselves may only require simple removal. If it is suspected that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes a sentinel node biopsy may be performed which is an injection of dye into the affected area which in turn flows to the nearby lymph nodes and the first ones to take up the dye are then tested for cancer cells and if there are none it is a very good indication that the melanoma has not spread beyond the area that it was first discovered. Treatment for more later stage melanomas that is to say melanomas that have spread beyond the skin, treatment options are varied and can include surgery to remove affected lymph nodes. Immunotherapy can also be prescribed which is a drug treatment that helps the immune system fight cancer. Targeted drug treatments may also be prescribed which can cause cancer cells themselves to die and this can be useful treatment if the melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes or to other areas of the body. In addition radiation therapy can be utilised which is high powered energy beams which are used to kill cancer cells. They may also be directed at lymph nodes if the melanoma has spread. And finally, chemotherapy can be deployed which uses drugs to kill cancer cells. This can be given intravenously or, in pill form or both.
For a successful medical negligence claim it would be required to show that the delay in diagnosing melanoma caused the disease to progress and spread where it otherwise may not have. The usual failures we know can include a failure to take a complete and accurate history with the patient, either by the GP and/or the dermatologist, a failure by the GP to refer to an appropriate specialist, and also an error in interpreting the various investigations and tests, which in turn lead to a delay in the diagnosis and subsequent treatment of the cancer.
Our melanoma misdiagnosis solicitors
If you or a loved one have suffered harm because of negligent delay or misdiagnosis of melanoma, then you may be able to make a claim for compensation. It is important you seek advice as soon as possible to protect your legal rights. We believe in putting you our client first and we are committed to achieving the best result possible while all the time remaining sensitive to your needs. Please feel free to reach out to us below and will be pleased to discuss your case and offer no obligation advice.
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