Free Consultation (800) 272-4080
Call Now (800) 272-4080

Is a Missed Melanoma Diagnosis Deadly?

September 25, 2020

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that typically occurs because of too much exposure to ultraviolet or “UV” radiation. It’s a type of electromagnetic radiation that comes from the sun.

Melanoma is the third most common skin cancer, but it’s the most deadly. Melanoma takes more lives every year than any other type of skin cancer.

Are There Man-Made Sources of UV Rays?

Yes. People can also be exposed to several types of man-made sources of UV rays. Here are the most common kinds:

  • Sunlamps and sunbeds. Found in tanning beds and tanning booths, the amount and type of UV radiation exposure depends on several factors, including: (i) the type of lamps that are used in the tanning booth or bed; (ii) the amount of time an individual is in the bed; and (iii) the frequency with which a person uses it.
  • Phototherapy (UV therapy): There are a few skin problems, like psoriasis, that are successfully treated with UV light. There’s a treatment called PUVA or photochemotherapy in which the drug psoralen is administered beforehand. The drug collects in the skin and sensitizes it to UV. After this, the patient is treated with UVA radiation. Some dermatologists also employ another treatment option using only UVB (Ultraviolet B).
  • Black-light lamps: Lamps that use black light bulbs emit UV rays (mostly UVA). While the bulb also gives off some visible light, it has a filter that blocks most of that light out allows the UV rays through. Insect repellent devices or “bug zappers” also use “black light” that emit some UV rays. However, they use bulbs with a different filter that causes them to glow blue.
  • Mercury-vapor lamps: These types of lamps can be used to light expansive public areas, like outdoor tennis courts, swimming pools, gymnasiums, as well as streets and highways. Mercury-vapor lamps don’t expose people to UV rays if working properly. Actually, mercury-vapor lamps consist of two bulbs: an inner bulb that emits light and UV rays, and an outer bulb that filters out the UV. Exposure to UC rays can only happen if the outer bulb is damaged. Many mercury-vapor lamps are designed to shut off if the outer bulb breaks, and those that don’t have this feature are only supposed to be installed behind a protective layer or in areas where people wouldn’t be exposed if part of the bulb is damaged.
  • Other types of lamps found in manufacturing jobs. Many industrial sites use high-pressure xenon and xenon-mercury arc lamps, welding arcs, and plasma torches (also called a plasma arc, plasma gun, plasma cutter, or plasmatron). Xenon and xenon-mercury arc lamps are used as sources of light and UV rays for many processes, including UV “curing” (a technology that changes a liquid into a solid using ultraviolet energy for inks and coatings, disinfection, to simulate sunlight (to test solar panels, for example), and some car headlights. Most of these types of lamps, along with plasma torches and welding arcs, are a primary concern for UV exposure for workers.

What are the Symptoms of Melanoma?

There are several common symptoms for melanoma. They include:

  • Lesions on your palms, fingers, or soles of your feet or toes that are dark in color;
  • A large brown spot with dark freckles;
  • Irregularly-shaped lesions that are blue, white, red, black, or a combination of colors;
  • Lesions on the inside of your mouth, nose, anus, or vagina; and
  • Changes in color, texture, or size of a pre-existing mole.

When found early, melanoma can be completely removed, and in many cases, a simple procedure will be the only treatment needed. But if it is misdiagnosed or there’s a delay in detection, it can lead to serious medical issues and even death.

Why is Melanoma Diagnoses Frequently Missed?

One study found that 30% of the melanomas were incorrectly diagnosed at the first medical visit. This seems to be the standard rate found in most research. If melanoma is left undetected, it can spread to other parts of the body—including vital organs.

Amelanotic melanoma (those melanomas with no color) frequently go undetected for longer, which allows it time to spread. They’re called “amelanotic” because they have no melanin, which is the dark pigment that gives most moles and melanomas their color. These unpigmented melanomas may be pinkish-looking, reddish, purple, normal skin color or even clear and colorless. Because of this characteristic, physicians may not recognize these as possible melanomas right away.

Many times, a patient’s symptoms are confused for another condition such as a blue nevus—a type of benign mole that’s outlined in blue; or liver spots, which are dark patches of skin that often look like moles. While liver spots are typically benign, they sometimes can develop into superficial melanoma.

How is a Missed or Delayed Diagnoses Avoided?

There are two avoidable medical errors that frequently result in a missed or delayed diagnoses of melanoma. One is performing cryosurgery on a lesion when the diagnosis isn’t 100% certain. Experts say that it’s best to avoid freezing what looks to be a benign nevus (mole) because it could be melanoma, or when it grows back, a future biopsy may appear to look like melanoma.  Most significantly, cryosurgery isn’t a recommended treatment for melanoma, and freezing an early-stage melanoma may allow it time to spread deeply and metastasize before it is properly diagnosed.

The second avoidable medical error is disposing of pathology specimens after an excision or biopsy. All pigmented lesions should be sent to a lab for histologic examination after excision or biopsy. Even a common black, brown, or tan noncancerous skin growth (seborrheic keratosis) that looks benign should be sent to the pathologist when excised. Only nonpigmented skin tags, typical sebaceous cysts, and typical lipoma lesions can safely be discarded.

Can I Sue for Damages Caused by a Missed or Delayed Melanoma Diagnosis?

The early diagnosis of melanoma means less treatment and better chances of increased life expectancy. Early and regular repeat screenings for melanoma are recommended for those with a familial history, genetic risk factors, and exposure to cancer causing conditions.

However, many people don’t get screened or aren’t referred to a specialist, like a dermatologist. Making matters worse is the fact that many general practitioners have a lack of familiarity with the appearance of early melanoma lesions and the need to biopsy them for complete study.

Many PCPs (primary care providers) say that their failing to offer patients screening and mole check because of time. Doctors see as many patients a day as they can, and screenings can take more than the 15 minutes most physicians have scheduled to see each patient.

If your physician fails to diagnose your skin cancer because of negligent care or some type of error, you may have a lawsuit for medical malpractice.


Misdiagnosis of melanoma is a significant cause of litigation against dermatologists and dermatopathologists. You should always be sure that your PCP follows up on areas of concern and refers you to a specialist when warranted.

However, if you or a loved one has suffered harm due to a missed or delayed melanoma diagnosis, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney at Buchanan Firm in Michigan for a free consultation. We can discuss your situation if you believe you’ve been injured as the result of a misdiagnosis, missed diagnosis, or an error in lab results.

Our firm proudly serves people all across Michigan, including major cities like Grand Rapids, Detroit, Traverse City, St. Joseph, Benton Harbor, Lansing, and Novi, and rural towns such as Cadillac, Saugatuck, Munising, Frankenmuth, Ludington,  Marshall, or Coldwater. We will meet you after-hours, at home or in the hospital to accommodate you.

Contact us today!