Breast cancer malpractice litigation: A 10-year analysis and update in trends

Clin Imaging. 2020 Mar;60(1):26-32. doi: 10.1016/j.clinimag.2019.12.001. Epub 2019 Dec 11.


Purpose: The purpose of this study is to evaluate factors contributing to medical malpractice claims relating to breast cancer and the field of breast imaging.

Method and materials: A retrospective analysis of jury verdict and settlement reports in US state and federal courts on the Westlaw legal database was performed. The database was searched for 'malpractice' and 'breast cancer' related terms from 2005 to 2015. 253 cases were evaluated for factors including case outcome, award amounts, type of physician defendants, plaintiff age, stage at diagnosis, length of delay in diagnosis, and symptomatology, among other factors. Data were summarized using descriptive statistics. Logistic regression was used to evaluate associations between factors and plaintiff award.

Results: Median plaintiff age was 46 (IQR 39, 56). In cases that resulted in plaintiff payment, the award amount was $978,858 ± 2,308,598. Delay in diagnosis was cited as a reason for claimed negligence in 82% of cases. Mean length of delay was 17 ± 13 months. Named defendants were radiologists (43%), surgeons (27%), obstetrician/gynecologists (26%), and internal medicine/family practice (15%). Age, defendant type, and cancer stage were not significant predictors of case outcome. Failure to refer to a surgeon was twofold (OR [95% CI]: 2.44 [1.085, 5.489]) more likely to be resolved with payment compared to those cases without that factor. Cases with a delay in diagnosis of ≥12 months were twofold (OR [95% CI]: 2.129 [1.086, 4.175]) more likely to be resolved with payment compared to a delay <12 months. Patients who failed to follow up as recommended were twofold (OR [95% CI]: 2.31 [1.05, 5.10]) less likely to have their case be resolved with payment.

Conclusion: Plaintiffs involved in breast cancer imaging related medical malpractice cases tend to be younger than the median age of diagnosis of breast cancer for US women (62 per NCI Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results data). Breast cancer imaging suits involve physicians from multiple specialties, radiology being the most common. Delay in diagnosis ≥12 months, lack of surgeon referral, and lack of recommended follow up are related to plaintiff payments and may be areas of professional practice to target as radiology professionals.

Clinical relevance/application: Medical malpractice relating to breast cancer and breast imaging remains very prevalent and costly for all involved. Radiologists are being named in these lawsuits more frequently than in the past.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Breast imaging; Medical malpractice.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast
  • Breast Neoplasms*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Malpractice / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiologists
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surgeons