In the UK more than 9,000 people per year are diagnosed with a brain tumour, approximately half of which are cancerous (malignant) and half are non-cancerous (benign). The exact cause of a primary cancerous brain tumour is unknown, although it is thought that certain genetic conditions and previous radiotherapy treatment may increase the risk of one developing.
What is a brain tumour?
A brain tumour is the growth of cells in the brain that multiplies in an abnormal, uncontrollable way. If the brain tumour is a low grade (one to two) then it is most likely to be non-cancerous. If the tumour is a high grade (grade three or four) then it is more likely to be a cancerous tumour. Tumours which are grade three or four are usually a fast-growing cancer.
If the tumour is cancerous, it can either be a primary tumour, where it starts in the brain, or it can be a secondary tumour, where it has spread to the brain from elsewhere. Secondary tumours are more likely to grow back after treatment.
Symptoms of a brain tumour
Symptoms of a brain tumour vary depending on the exact part of the brain that is affected and also how big the tumour is. Common symptoms include:
- Seizures (fits)
- Severe, persistent headaches
- Persistent nausea, vomiting and drowsiness
- Mental or behavioural changes, such as memory problems or changes in personality
- Progressive weakness or paralysis on one side of the body, vision problems, or speech problems
Types of treatment
The main form of treatment available for most brain tumours is surgery, which aims to remove as much of the abnormal tissue as possible. However, further treatment following surgery is sometimes necessary in the form of radiotherapy and/ or chemotherapy to kill any cancerous cells left behind and reduce the chances of the tumour re-growing.
A primary malignant brain tumour needs to be treated as soon as possible to try and prevent the tumour spreading and damaging other parts of the brain and spinal cord.
The outlook for malignant tumours and the success rate of treatment is affected by a number of factors such as the location of the tumour in the brain, age and general health. Following diagnosis around 40% of people live at least a year, 19% live at least five years and around 14% live at least ten years.
Unfortunately, malignant tumours will sometimes return after treatment and even if treatment is successful, you may be left with some persistent problems such as seizures, walking difficulties or speech problems. If the tumour does return, or a secondary tumour develops, a cure may not be possible and treatment can instead be used to improve symptoms and prolong life.
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When might there be a clinical negligence claim?
Fortunately, most children and adults receive appropriate medical care. However, sometimes medical mistakes are made that result in the brain cancer developing or spreading which makes it more difficult to treat. For some there is a direct causal link between the staging of their cancer, their treatment and success following treatment which may have been affected by negligent treatment that they received.
A clinical negligence claim may be successful if there has been a misdiagnosis or delay in diagnosis or there was an error in treatment or surgery which has caused an injury to an individual.
To assess whether there may be a potential clinical negligence claim I will typically consider questions relating to the investigations into their symptoms and subsequent tests and treatment.
Questions I may typically consider include:
- Did the GP or specialist appropriately identify and respond to the individual’s symptoms?
- Was there a failure by the GP to refer the patient for further investigations in sufficient time?
- Was appropriate treatment offered?
- Was there a failure to provide the correct surgery or was an error performed in surgery?
- Was there a failure to carry out the relevant blood tests?
- Was there a delay in carrying out appropriate tests such as an x-ray, an MRI scan and CT scan?
- Were the results of such tests interpreted correctly?
Such questions are significant because any delay in the treatment or a misdiagnosis of a brain tumour, an error in treatment or surgery could result in complications for the patient. Such complications include an exacerbation of the cancer itself, prolonged recovery periods and sometimes even death due to a failure to act earlier. I consult medical experts in the relevant fields to assess whether or not someone has suffered an injury due to negligent treatment.
How can we help?
If you or a member of your family have suffered a brain tumour and you are concerned with the standard of treatment received, our specialist medical negligence solicitors team may be able to assist you in bringing a compensation claim against the people and/or organizations responsible.