Cancer misdiagnosis can have a devastating physical, emotional, and financial impact on patients. In some cancer misdiagnosis cases, a patient’s cancer remains undiagnosed and therefore untreated. As a result, the patient may miss a crucial time frame when cancer treatment may have been most effective. Adversely, cancer misdiagnosis may lead a non-cancerous patient to undergo extensive cancer treatment. Patients who experience cancer misdiagnosis may be eligible to file a medical malpractice suit against the medical specialists who failed to perform their duties.
Types of Cancer Misdiagnosis
Cancer misdiagnosis can occur in several forms. There are two main occurrences: failure to diagnose a patient’s existing cancer, and diagnosing a different medical condition as cancer when cancer is not present. Additionally, a physician may misdiagnose an existing cancer’s type, stage, or location. All forms of cancer misdiagnosis can present life-threatening issues for the patient.
Failure to Diagnose Existing Cancer
One of the most dangerous forms of cancer misdiagnosis occurs when a medical professional fails to properly diagnose cancer that has developed within a patient. When this type of cancer misdiagnosis occurs, the condition may remain untreated for extended periods. Cancer treatment is generally more effective the earlier treatment begins. As a result, the patient may experience deadly progression of the cancer.
Diagnosing another Condition as Cancer
A patient may be given a cancer diagnosis despite the fact that cancer is not present. This can be caused by misdiagnosis of symptoms that a patient experiences. This type of cancer misdiagnosis can also be life-threatening. Unnecessary cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and surgery may create additional health problems for the patient. Additionally, the patient’s actual medical condition typically remains untreated. Depending on the severity of the condition, additional complications and death may result.
Possible Cancer Misdiagnosis Causes
Cancer misdiagnosis may occur due to a number of reasons, including:
- Failure to identify and diagnose a cancerous lesion that is present during a biopsy procedure
- Diagnosing a malignant, or cancerous, tumor as benign, or non-cancerous
- Diagnosing a benign tumor as malignant
- Ignoring or overlooking patient complaints and reported symptoms
- Failure to observe symptoms, such as a lump during a physical examination
- Failure of the physician to order the proper tests
- Incorrect interpretation and evaluation of test results
- Failure to properly follow up on test results
- Failure to refer the patient to a more qualified specialist based on test results
Prevalence of Cancer Misdiagnosis
Recent data shows that cancer misdiagnosis is widely underestimated. The journal BMJ Quality and Safety estimates that cancer misdiagnosis rates may be as high as 28 percent. However, the National Coalition on Health Care conducted a survey revealing that many physicians grossly underestimate the prevalence of cancer misdiagnosis. Roughly 60 percent of the 400 surveyed physicians believed that cancer misdiagnosis rates are between zero and 10 percent.
Preventing Cancer Misdiagnosis
Patients may play a crucial role in preventing cancer misdiagnosis. Those who are under physician care should always be honest about their symptoms, regardless of how trivial or irrelevant they may seem. One small, overlooked symptom may be the difference between cancer misdiagnosis and successful diagnosis and treatment. After discussing symptoms, patients should not allow physicians to brush off or ignore the potential severity of symptoms.
Patients should ask as many questions as needed to understand their current medical condition. It is often considered a “red flag” if a physician cannot answer a question regarding a patient’s health. In cases such as this, it is recommended that the patient seeks examination from another physician. Evaluation from additional physicians may be helpful in any case. The more professional opinions a patient receives, the more likely it is that any medical conditions will be properly diagnosed and treated.
Cancer Misdiagnosis Case Examples
Cancer misdiagnosis patients may be eligible to file a lawsuit in order to recover financial compensation. Patients may receive financial compensation to cover costs that were incurred due to the cancer misdiagnosis. The patient may also receive compensation for loss of quality of life caused by the cancer misdiagnosis.
Uterine Cancer Misdiagnosis
Twenty-two-year-old Jennifer Rufer was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancerous tumor in her uterus. After months of chemotherapy, she received a hysterectomy. After losing the ability to have children, doctors discovered that she never had cancer. She received $16 million from her medical malpractice suit against the treating hospital and the company that manufactured the faulty test that led to her cancer misdiagnosis.
Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis
Herlinda Garcia of Texas was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, despite the fact that she did not have cancer. She underwent four months of chemotherapy and gave away her possessions under the impression that the cancer would result in her death. She received $367,500 as a result of her medical malpractice lawsuit.
Graber, Mark L. “The incidence of diagnostic error in medicine.” BMJ Quality & Safety. (2013): n. page. Web. 20 Sep. 2013. <http://qualitysafety.bmj.com/content/early/2013/08/07/bmjqs-2012-001615.full?sid=0c9e987a-f011-4251-b9e5-182991c859b0>.
“Herlinda Garcia, Texas Woman, Wins $367,500 In Court After Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis.” Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 18 Jul 2013. Web. 20 Sep 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/18/herlinda-garcia-cancer-misdiagnosis_n_3617076.html>.
“Misdiagnosis of Cancer.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 26 Jul 2008. Web. 20 Sep 2013. <http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/story?id=132213&page=1&singlePage=true>.