Skin cancer misdiagnosis; your guide to making a medical negligence claim

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Terry Regan

Director and Head of Medical and Clinical Negligence

There are two types of skin cancer; melanoma and non-melanoma. The latter is the most common and is a term used for a group of different cancers that can develop over a long period of time just under the skin. Melanoma is less common but often more serious. Melanoma is the 5th most diagnosed cancer in the UK with around 16,000 new diagnoses every year, according to Cancer Research UK. Skin cancer is unfortunately on the rise, and can sometimes be misdiagnosed as other, less serious conditions.

In this guide, we'll look at how early signs of skin cancer can be mistaken for less serious skin conditions, how a misdiagnosis can happen and the potentially huge impact a cancer misdiagnosis can have on patients and their loved ones. If you have been affected by a skin cancer misdiagnosis, we'll explain how you can make a compensation claim for clinical negligence.

What are the common signs of skin cancer?

An important early sign of a malignant, or cancerous melanoma that medical professionals may look for to diagnose skin cancer is the appearance of a new mole on your body where you didn't have one before or a change in an existing mole. Changes to an existing mole that could signify a malignant melanoma include a change in size, shape or even colour. The mole could also feel itchy and/or sore and could show signs of bleeding or scabbing.

While melanomas are more commonly found on men's backs and women's legs, they can appear anywhere on your skin, and shouldn't be ignored or dismissed.

A lump or patch appearing on an area of skin which has had exposure to the sun is quite often the first symptom of non-melanoma skin cancer. This lump or patch doesn't go away and can develop over months or even years in some cases. Typically, if the lump is cancerous, it is red and firm and can develop into ulcers. Cancerous patches can usually be identified as flat and scaly.

What is skin cancer often misdiagnosed as?

Unfortunately, the early warning signs of skin cancer can be misdiagnosed as common benign skin conditions that have similar symptoms. Here are four common conditions that have been involved in misdiagnosis:


A skin condition thought to be related to the immune system, psoriasis symptoms include red, scaly patches of skin similar to those displayed in people with early non-melanoma.

Benign tumours

Benign tumours and cancerous tumours often look very similar and if a specialist is unsure, they should insist on a biopsy to make sure.


Dry, itchy, cracked or crusting skin, sometimes displaying small, raised bumps are some of the symptoms this treatable skin complaint shares with skin cancer.

Regular moles

If changes are not detected in regular moles, early warning symptoms of melanoma could be missed.

If your skin cancer has recently been diagnosed as another less serious condition, you should contact a medical negligence solicitor as soon as possible to discuss your case.

Who can misdiagnose skin cancer

If you spot early signs of melanoma or non-melanoma, your first port of call should be a visit to your GP. After an examination, if they believe there is a chance your symptoms are cancerous, they should refer you to a specialist for tests.

Most of the time, a correct diagnosis is made, and the patient receives the correct treatment for their condition in a timely manner. However, sometimes mistakes do happen. This can occur if:

  • Your GP mistakes your symptoms for a non-cancerous skin condition
  • Your GP fails to note aspects of your medical or family history which puts you at a higher risk of skin cancer
  • There is a delay in referring you to a specialist
  • Your biopsy results are misinterpreted, mixed up or misplaced

If you believe your misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis was a result of medical error, you should contact our medical negligence solicitors today via our website.

What impact can misdiagnosed skin cancer have?

Early treatment of skin cancer always gives patients the best chance of full recovery, so any delayed cancer diagnosis can have a significant impact and consequences can be extremely serious and detrimental to their health.

Misdiagnosed skin cancer can grow untreated for weeks or months until the misdiagnosis is realised. This gives the cancer time to spread and multiply across the patient's body. It could develop through the stages, and where a patient could have been successfully treated for stage 1 cancer, suddenly they are fighting a much more aggressive form which requires more intrusive cancer treatment. Tragically, the worst-case scenario in missed or late diagnosis is wrongful death, or death which could have been delayed.

According to Cancer Research UK, in stage 1 skin cancer, almost 100% of people can expect to survive their cancer for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed. By stage 3, this drops to 70%.

How can I make a claim for skin cancer misdiagnosis?

To successfully claim for skin cancer misdiagnosis, you need to prove that you were misdiagnosed and demonstrate that you have suffered as a consequence.

You can start by collecting any medical notes you have and letters from your GP or hospital that you received. This way, you can gather evidence for any complaints procedure you may follow.

It is important to seek legal advice regarding a medical negligence claim before taking any further steps such as contacting your doctor or health provider, as you could harm your case. This is where our team at Wake Smith can help you with your misdiagnosed skin cancer claim.

How Wake Smith can help you

At Wake Smith, we have an expert team of medical negligence solicitors ready to offer you advice and representation on medical and clinical negligence.

We have members of the specialist Law Society Clinical Negligence Panel and of Action against Medical Accidents with years of experience helping people who have suffered through NHS negligence or private care, GPs, therapists, dentists or opticians.

Please get in touch today, and our team of friendly, professional solicitors will be ready to help you with any cancer misdiagnosis claims.

Common queries

How long do I have to make a skin cancer misdiagnosis claim

From the time of your skin cancer misdiagnosis, you have three years within which you can make a clinical negligence claim. However, if you were not aware of your misdiagnosis until later, the three-year cancer claim limit begins from the date when you became aware a misdiagnosis had been made.

How much could I claim in compensation for a misdiagnosis claim?

If medical negligence is proven, the amount awarded for your compensation claim falls into two categories: general damages and special damages. Specific information taken into account when calculating general damages includes the additional suffering the misdiagnosis has had on you and the impact it has had on your condition including recovery time and treatments. Special damages look at the financial loss you may have suffered including loss of earnings and medical bills due to medical malpractice.

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About the author

Director and Head of Medical and Clinical Negligence

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