As indicated by the name, breast cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the tissue of the breasts. The National Breast Cancer Foundation states that one in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. Contrary to popular belief, breast cancer may also develop in males. However, this is significantly less common.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that breast cancer causes roughly 39,620 deaths per year. For this reason, early detection and effective treatment is crucial for breast cancer patients. Breast cancer misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or failure to diagnose can have devastating results.
Types of Breast Cancer
Common types of breast cancer include:
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which forms in the lining of the patient’s milk ducts, or tubes which carry milk to the nipple. DCIS is considered pre-invasive or non-invasive, as the cancerous cells have not spread, or invaded, the duct walls.
- Lobular carcinoma in situ, which forms in the lobules, or milk glands of the breasts.
- Invasive ductal carcinoma, during which the cancerous cells break through the duct wall and begin to grow into the breast’s fatty tissue. Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma, which spreads from the milk glands. Invasive lobular carcinoma can be more difficult to identify than invasive ductal carcinoma.
Breast Cancer Diagnosis Errors
The Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported that breast cancer misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or failure to diagnose can occur in up to 71 percent of cases seen by doctors who lack breast cancer specialization. This statistic drastically reduces to 3 percent in cases seen by doctors who specialize in mammography.
Commonly Misdiagnosed Conditions
Breast cancer misdiagnosis often depends on various symptoms that breast cancer patients may exhibit. This often relates to the type of breast cancer present in the patient. Inflammatory breast cancer can be misdiagnosed as other conditions which cause similar inflammatory symptoms, such as fibrocystic breast disease and mastitis.
Fibrocystic Breast Disease
Breast cancer may often be misdiagnosed as fibrocystic breast disease. Fibrocystic breast disease, also simply called fibrocystic breasts, causes the breast tissue to feel rope-like or lumpy. Fibrocystic breast disease is generally benign. However, it can cause tenderness and pain in the affected area.
A type of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer may be misdiagnosed as mastitis. Mastitis is a condition that causes inflammation of the affected breast. Both mastitis and inflammatory breast cancer do not exhibit a breast lump. The symptoms of these conditions involve redness and inflammation which may cause tenderness, firmness, and itchiness of the breast.
Causes of Breast Cancer Diagnosis Errors
Breast cancer misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, and failure to diagnose may occur due to physician negligence, faulty testing devices and results, and issues such as difficulty identifying symptoms. In some cases, breast cancer diagnosis errors may occur despite the doctor’s full competence and proper care. In cases where breast cancer misdiagnosis occurs due to the doctor’s negligence or incompetence, the patient may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the practicing physician.
Breast Cancer Malpractice
Breast cancer diagnosis errors may occur due to the doctor’s:
- Failure to reasonably recognize and treat symptoms
- Failure to order a mammogram or other appropriate testing
- Failure to perform a biopsy on tissue that is abnormal
- Failure to properly read or interpret breast cancer test results
- Delayed or inappropriate breast cancer treatment
Breast Cancer Testing Errors
Controversy exists over how certain doctors may interpret breast cancer test results, such as mammography results. Additionally, mammograms may not provide a sufficient image for certain areas of the patient’s breast. This may also contribute to breast cancer diagnosis errors. When determining whether or not a patient has breast cancer, it is important to utilize several forms of testing to ensure that the results of a single test are not misleading.
Preventing Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis
It is important for women to perform regular breast cancer self-examinations. Additionally, routine annual screening should be performed, even if the patient does not exhibit breast cancer symptoms. Patients should remain alert and aware of changes in the breasts and report even slight changes to a qualified physician. When testing for breast cancer based on specific breast cancer symptoms, patients should seek the expertise of a physician who specializes in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
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Kern, Kenneth. “The delayed diagnosis of breast cancer: medicolegal implications and risk prevention for surgeons.” Breast Disease. 12. (2001): 145-158. Print.
“Types of breast cancers.” American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society, 11 Sept 2013. Web. 7 Nov 2013. <http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-breast-cancer-types>.