Unfortunately, the majority of the research into oncology patient safety has focused on adults who are receiving cancer treatment. This means that children are uniquely vulnerable, especially when they are too young to fully express their pain and discomfort or actively participate in their own care.
If a child is given an overdose of chemotherapy medication, this may potentially be considered a form of medical malpractice. As such, your child may be entitled to compensation for the harm he or she has suffered.
The Challenge of Finding Doses for Pediatric Cancer Patients
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports that medication errors are the most common type of preventable harm that can occur within the pediatric population. Errors can occur due to several factors, including fatigued, overworked, or inattentive care providers. However, overdoses of chemotherapy drugs are especially concerning due to the extreme potency of these medications.
Calculating the correct dose of chemo for a child is no simple task. Children are not small adults. Height and weight play a role in achieving the proper dose of a particular chemo drug, but there are other considerations as well. For example:
- As infants age, there are substantial alterations in gastric and intestinal pH and in gastrointestinal motility, flora, and enzyme activity that will affect how oral medications are absorbed.
- As a child’s liver matures, changes in expression of phase I and II metabolizing enzymes alter the biotransformation of toxic medications to nontoxic metabolites.
- As children approach puberty, changes in body composition such as total body water and adipose tissue can affect how a medication is distributed.
- In adults, dosing is based on body surface area (BSA). The ratio of BSA to body weight (BW) is higher in infants and decreases as a child grows—leading to the potential for an overdose if this is not considered when treating an infant.
Most chemotherapy medications for children are administered via IV. However, some cancers require oral medications that are not available in a separate pediatric formula. Calculating the dose of these medications is a difficult process, especially since cutting, crushing, or otherwise altering tablets to make them easier for children to swallow can affect the absorption of the medication.
Effects of a Chemo Overdose
A child who has experienced a chemo overdose may suffer from more intense versions of the symptoms normally associated with chemotherapy—nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, muscle aches, and fatigue. Slowed breathing is another indication of a possible overdose that should be brought to a doctor’s attention immediately.
The long-term effects of a chemo overdose are harder to predict, but could include kidney damage, bladder damage, or an inability to have children. Remember, chemotherapy drugs reach all parts of the body—not just the cancer cells. Even when there is no overdose, the drugs have the potential to damage healthy cells.
Establishing a Malpractice Claim
To have a successful medical malpractice claim, you must establish the following:
- The defendant was caring for the child in a professional capacity.
- The defendant's actions or inactions violated the accepted medical standard of care for treating the child’s specific type of cancer.
- The child suffered measurable harm, such as a worsening of his or her condition.
- The harm is linked to the chemo overdose and not attributed to any other cause.
Depending upon the circumstances, the defendant in a chemo overdose malpractice case might be the oncologist who prescribed the medication, the nurse who administered the medication, the hospital where the child was treated, or the manufacturer of the drug. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can investigate the case and consult relevant expert witnesses to determine liability and estimate the value of a fair settlement.
Gray & White Law’s compassionate, experienced medical malpractice attorneys work to protect the rights of those who’ve been harmed by healthcare negligence—including pediatric cancer patients who’ve received a chemo overdose. Call today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your legal options and your child’s right to compensation.