“Defensive Medicine” Is Not What You Think

The purpose of radiation treatment is solely to kill cancer cells. Radiation treatment is a type of surgery without the knife. Women will be told to do the radiation treatment in almost every case of breast cancer where it has not metastasized. Even if you had a successful lumpectomy and the surgeon said the tumor was very well circumscribed and there was no involvement of the nearby lymph nodes, they will still recommend the radiation treatment after surgery, “just in case.”

This is known as practicing “defensive medicine.” Unfortunately, most people have no idea what the term “defensive medicine” really means. Did you think it had something to do with being defensive and cautious about your own health? Did they make you believe that the radiation is extra insurance that the breast cancer wouldn’t come back? These are the most common misconceptions. The hospital administration wants you to believe these misconceptions, even though they never spell-out what “defensive medicine” really means. “Defensive medicine” is not what you think. There’s a word missing from the common expression “defensive medicine.” The full expression, so that you can really understand what it means, is: “legally defensive medicine.”

Legally Defensive Medicine Has Nothing To Do With Your Health

When you are told that you should get the radiation treatment “just in case” here is the scenario: If you were to decline further treatment, and the original type of cancer tumor were to (G-d forbid) reappear locally, and you were upset with the hospital, they could say that they advised radiation therapy, but you “denied the treatment,” so they would not be legally liable. If you were to have taken the radiation treatment and the original type of tumor were to reappear locally, or anywhere else in your body, and you were upset with the hospital, they could say they did everything they could do, and they have no legal liability.

Remember, they got you to sign a paper that gave them permission to use that destructive radiation treatment on you (called informed consent). But that informed consent gets them off the hook when there are new tumors that show up as a result of the radiation exposure. Regardless of subsequent radiation tumors, they would have no liability, because you signed that legal consent form giving them legal immunity.

No Liability Means that They are Legally Not Responsible

When they suggest radiation treatment, legally, they get themselves off-the-hook no matter what happens later. By suggesting the radiation treatment, they have no further liability to you at all.

How were you expected to know to bring in your own attorney before signing those informed consent/legal release forms?

You must ask your doctor if the radiation treatment has been proven to prolong life. Then, ask: “How much longer has it been proven to prolong life?” Isn’t that why you would be considering radiation treatment? Studies only address whether the same disease reappears locally after radiation treatment (local disease control) over a short period of time. Whether or not the disease were to appear somewhere else in your body after radiation treatment is not addressed in those studies, because the purpose of those studies is to conclude whether or not the disease comes back locally within a certain short time frame. The studies are not comprehensive; they do not prove life extension, and they do not address radiation tumors that can appear after the short time frame of the studies is over.

Whatever you decide about radiation treatment after talking with your doctor, at least you should know the facts, instead of the myths, surrounding the practice of legally defensive medicine regarding radiation treatment after breast cancer surgery.

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