Concerns raised after cancer is misdiagnosed as harmless mole

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A patient who needed vital cancer treatment did not receive it for six months because a malignant growth on his head was misdiagnosed as a harmless mole.

Martin Cotton, 54, is taking advice from clinical negligence specialists BL Claims Solicitors over his treatment at St Mary’s Hospital, Isle of Wight.

Mr Cotton should have been sent for urgent treatment for a cancerous lesion growing on his head but no action was taken because a locum consultant working at the hospital’s histology department mistakenly gave his biopsy the all-clear.

Clinical negligence specialist Patricia Wakeford of BL Claims Solicitors said: “There is no doubt that had Mr Cotton’s condition been correctly diagnosed, he would have been sent urgently for further examination and the growth would have been removed.

“Instead this was significantly delayed, causing him to suffer distress, more invasive treatment and the worry that the cancer may have spread.

“In addition our client is concerned about the possibility, no matter how small, that other patients may have been similarly affected and that further cases could come to light once the samples of skin biopsies examined by this locum have been checked."

“If anyone believes they may be affected, they should contact their GP, or the Trust, in the first instance.”

Mr Cotton, who has three children, six stepchildren and 11 grandchildren and lives in Newport, first discussed the growth with his GP on February 18th, 2014 and was referred for an appointment at St Mary’s which took place on February 28th.

A consultant maxillofacial surgeon suspected the lesion was a cancerous melanoma and referred Mr Cotton for a biopsy which was carried out on March 10 and sent on to histology for reporting.

The locum who examined the biopsy concluded that the growth was not malignant, describing it as a melanocytic naevus – commonly known as a mole.

Mr Cotton was told on March 24th that the growth was benign, but because he had described it as itchy a surgeon decided to remove it under local anaesthetic.

Believing the growth to be harmless, Mr Cotton asked for this operation to take place after June 2014, because he was due to go on holiday with wife Sara.

A note was made of this in a manual filing system which saw a referral written on a blue card forwarded to the hospital’s Outpatient Appointment and Records Unit so the operation could be booked at a later date.

Despite this, Mr Cotton was not contacted for an appointment and nothing happened until September, by which time the lesion had changed in size and shape and his GP raised the alarm.

Mr Cotton was sent back for urgent tests, following which it was ordered that the growth should be removed as soon as possible.

Lab tests concluded that the growth had changed from a surface lesion to one which was growing further into the skin, raising concerns that it could have spread to other parts of the body including the lymph nodes.

Mr Cotton was referred to Southampton General Hospital for cancer treatment and remains under the care of that hospital.

A review carried out by Isle of Wight NHS Trust into Mr Cotton’s original biopsy concluded that it did show the appearance of a malignant melanoma and the test should have triggered urgent treatment to have it removed.

Mr Cotton said: “Since all this has happened I’ve been diagnosed with depression and I go to counselling because it has turned our lives upside down. My wife and I were looking forward to enjoying more holidays and enjoying the time we have together but I am in no state to do that now.

“If I had been told straight away after the first biopsy then I would have cancelled the cruise – my health would have come first. As it was I went on holiday having no idea how ill I was.

"From the information that I have received from the hospital so far; I have concerns about the ability of the histopathologist to do the job and question whether he should have been employed in the first place. I understand that the hospital is getting a second opinion about a large number of skin samples examined by the same locum.

“We put our lives in the hands of doctors and when a consultant tells you that it’s an all-clear, you trust what they say. I have just completely lost all faith in the medical system and particularly in the hospital on the Isle of Wight. I am worried that other people may have been misdiagnosed in the same way.”

It is also understood that an electronic database is to be introduced to replace the “blue card” system.

Mr Cotton added: “I can’t believe that in this day and age when systems are computerised, they were still relying on cards in a filing system.

“If I hadn’t raised it again in September I could still be walking around with this growth getting worse and God knows what state I would have been in now.

“This has put an enormous strain on me and my family, and it could be happening to others as well. It’s a real shock and it’s not fair on anybody.”

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