Substantial claim settled against Royal Marsden Hospital for delayed breast cancer diagnosis

Posted: 09/05/2013


Penningtons’ clinical negligence team has recently settled a substantial claim for damages for a client who suffered a delay in diagnosis of her breast cancer due to negligent errors in the interpretation of biopsies performed on a breast lump.

The claimant was in a breast screening programme at the Royal Marsden when she reported a lump in her left breast in July 2004. A normal mammogram was reported but she reattended the hospital in January 2005. An aspiration was carried out and reported as normal but expert evidence indicated that this interpretation was borderline as there were some suspicious signs.

In November 2005 our client returned to hospital and further tests were carried out on the lump, including a biopsy which was reported as showing no atypia or malignancy. Based on expert evidence, our client’s case was that this biopsy was misinterpreted and should have been reported as suspicious of ductal carcinoma in situ.

In September 2006 she returned to the Royal Marsden and a further biopsy was performed. This was analysed by the same histopathologist who again reported it as showing no atypia or malignancy. Our client’s case was that this sample was again misinterpreted, mis-reported and wrongly classified as it, in fact, showed extensive invasive carcinoma.

In May 2007 a decision was finally made to remove the lump and surgery was performed in July 2007, three years after our client reported the lump. Shortly afterwards a diagnosis of breast cancer was made.

By this time, our client had lost faith in the team at the Royal Marsden and transferred her care elsewhere. She underwent a bilateral mastectomy and extensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She has been left with significant physical and psychological effects of the delayed diagnosis. Her treating hospital reviewed her history and identified that the 2005 and 2006 biopsies reported as normal in fact showed abnormalities.

We investigated a claim against the Royal Marsden. Liability was initially denied but, once proceedings were issued, it was conceded that there had been failings in the interpretation of the two biopsies, resulting in a delay in diagnosis of about 19 months and progression of the cancer in this time. There was considerable dispute about the impact of the delay but, ultimately, a settlement of the claim was negotiated at a round table meeting.

The case was handled by Philippa Luscombe and Lucie Prothero.


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