Harm Due to Chemotherapy Medication Errors

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Know How Harm Due to Chemotherapy Medication Errors Can Cause Serious Problems Due to Medical Malpractice in Oregon

While chemotherapy is thought to be something that helps cancer patients (which it does in many cases), it is a very dangerous type of therapy that if not utilized properly, can cause serious patient harm, including wrongful death. In fact, harm due to chemotherapy medication errors can be life-changing and fatal in more ways than one.  Patients receiving chemotherapy are at risk for numerous side effects, but for many the benefit of potentially curing or treating their cancer outweighs the risk for side effects. However, when a patient is harmed by the administration of chemotherapy due to an error caused by their healthcare team, it can cause catastrophic effects. Chemotherapy errors should never happen, and are considered to be medical malpractice due to the negligence of a healthcare provider.

Victims who are harmed by medical malpractice may be entitled to bring a lawsuit against any liable doctor, physician, hospital, practice group, nurse, or other professional who helps to render care and treatment.  Families could also recover compensation if a loved one was wrongfully killed from harm due to chemotherapy medication errors.  These lawsuits are important and can result in serious or catastrophic damages to victims, which is why recovering compensation with the help of an experienced medical malpractice lawyer is imperative.

Why is Chemotherapy Administered?

As mentioned above, chemotherapy is administered to treat patients with cancer. The goal of chemotherapy administration can vary depending on the patient’s overall prognosis, but may include palliative intent (prolong a patient’s life and relieve symptoms related to disease) or curative intent (with hope to cure the patient’s cancer). 

Chemotherapy can be administered in a variety of settings, such as neoadjuvant, adjuvant, or metastatic. Neoadjuvant refers to chemotherapy being administered prior to surgery with the goal of shrinking the tumor before the surgery. Adjuvant therapy is given after a surgery. The goal of this therapy is to lower the risk of the cancer recurring. In the metastatic setting, it is often given to patients with the hope of prolonging their lives and providing symptom relief. 

Common Side Effects of Chemotherapy

There are many side effects that patients undergoing chemotherapy may experience. Some are more serious than others, and often can be managed with other drugs to control symptoms, IV hydration, or taking a break from chemotherapy to allow the patient’s body to recover. Unfortunately, while chemotherapy can be quite effective in killing cancer cells, it also kills other good cells as well, which is why side effects often occur. 

Chemotherapy is considered to be cytotoxic, as it interacts with the division of cells. Examples of common side effects due to chemotherapy administration include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Neutropenia – low neutrophil count which puts the patient at a greater risk for infection
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Weight gain
  • Easy bruising 
  • Easy bleeding
  • Taste changes
  • Changes in smell
  • Constipation
  • Impairment of fertility in men
  • Impairment of fertility in women
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • Thrombocytopenia  – low platelet count which puts the patient at an increased risk for bleeding
  • Anemia
  • Mouth sores
  • Intestinal sores
  • Skin rashes
  • Skin breakdown
  • Neuropathy
  • Kidney toxicity 
  • Liver toxicity
  • Pain
  • Hot flashes
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Cognitive changes or impairment
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Dry mouth

These are just some of the many potential side effects. While this may scare a patient who is receiving or is about to receive chemotherapy, patients usually only experience a few of these side effects, and with proper administration and management, these side effects can be managed. 

Administration of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is administered in many different ways and in different settings. Some patients receive their chemotherapy in a hospital, while others receive their treatment in an outpatient clinic. Some chemotherapy drugs are oral (by mouth), which allows the patient to receive their treatment at home. Examples of ways that chemotherapy may be administered include the following:

  • Intravenous 
  • Oral – pills, liquid or tablets
  • Intrathecal – into the spinal cord or subarachnoid space. This is done for patients with known disease in their cerebrospinal fluid, or for those who are at a greater risk for disease to spread to this location
  • Intramuscular – into the muscle
  • Topical – applied as a cream or ointment 
  • Intra-pleural – into the pleural lining of the lungs 
  • Subcutaneous – into the fatty tissue
  • Intra-vesicular – administered into the bladder
  • Intra-peritoneal – into the peritoneum 
  • Implantable chemotherapy – implanted into a specifically area of the body. This is a surgical procedure that aims to locally treat a tumor
  • Intra-arterial -This type of therapy is administered into an artery that supplies blood to a tumor

Errors in Chemotherapy Administration and Prescribing: Know When Harm Due to Chemotherapy Medical Errors Occurs 

According to the National Library of Medicine, chemotherapy error occur at a rate of 1-4 per every 1000 orders. This is staggeringly high, especially considering how a small chemotherapy error can cause death or serious harm to a patient. Examples of chemotherapy errors include the following:

  • Administration error – This type of error occurs when administering the drug to the patient. This may include administering the drug too fast or too slow, or administering it by the wrong route (intrathecal instead of intravenous), which can lead to serious harm or even death
  • Prescribing error – This type of error can occur when the wrong chemotherapy is prescribed, or if the chemotherapy is prescribed without checking for drug interactions with other medications the patient is taking 
  • Wrong dose administered – this is especially serious as administering too low or too high of a dose is quite serious. If too high of a dose is administered, this puts the patient at an increased risk of drug toxicity, or even death. If too low of a dose is administered, it may not effectively treat the patient’s cancer, putting them at greater risk for progression of disease or even death
  • Administering chemotherapy when it is not appropriate – there are strict guidelines that should be followed when choosing to administer chemotherapy to a patient. If the patient is too ill, if their blood counts are too abnormal (i.e. their neutrophil count is too low, platelets are too low, kidney or liver function abnormalities), the drug may need to be held. If a physician chooses to administer the medication anyway, this can cause greater harm to the patient
  • Administration or prescribing chemotherapy when it is not indication – while this is rare, administration of chemotherapy to a patient who does not have cancer can cause great harm and trauma. Rarely, a patient may be misdiagnosed with cancer, and a provider may choose to unnecessarily place them on chemotherapy 

Complications Due to Medical Malpractice

Complications due to the improper administration or prescribing of chemotherapy may include the following:

  • Bone marrow toxicity 
  • Infection
  • Irreversible neuropathy
  • Death
  • Irreversible organ damage
  • Diarrhea
  • Hospitalization 
  • Sterility (inability to conceive children)
  • Financial distress
  • Emotional distress, and
  • Other damages.

Did You or a Loved One Suffer Harm Due to Chemotherapy Medical Errors in Oregon?  We Can Help

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured or killed as a result of medical malpractice contact the Oregon Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Kuhlman Law at our number below or fill out the intake form.  We offer a free initial case evaluation and handle cases on a contingency fee which means that you pay no money unless we recover.

Our law firm handles cases throughout the state including Bend and Portland Oregon, Redmond, Central Oregon, Sisters, Madras, Multnomah County, Deschutes County, Salem, Eugene, Corvallis, Lane County, Medford, Gresham, La Grande, Albany, Medford, Beaverton, Umatilla, Pendleton,  Cottage Grove, Florence, Oregon City, Springfield, Keizer, Grants Pass, McMinnville, Tualatin, West Linn, Forest Grove, Wilsonville, Newberg, Roseburg, Lake Oswego, Klamath Falls, Happy Valley, Tigard, Ashland, Milwakie, Coos Bay, The Dalles,  St. Helens, Sherwood, Central Point, Canby, Troutdale, Hermiston, Silverton, Hood River, Newport, Prineville, Astoria, Tillamook, Lincoln City, Hillsboro, and Vancouver, Washington.

We also have an office in Minneapolis, Minnesota and take medical malpractice cases throughout the Twin Cities, including St. Paul, Hennepin County, Ramsey County, Dakota County, Washington County, Anoka County, Scott County, Blaine, Stillwater, and Saint Paul Minnesota.

For a free case evaluation


(541) 385-1999 in Bend, Oregon
(503) 479-3646 in Portland, Oregon
(612) 444-3374 in Minnesota

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