Cancer misdiagnosis often has devastating outcomes for patients and their families. Cancer misdiagnosis can occur when non-cancerous medical conditions are falsely diagnosed as cancer. Cancer misdiagnosis also occurs when cancer patients do not receive a proper and timely cancer diagnosis. In these cases, the patient may experience incorrect diagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or a complete failure to diagnose the cancer.
According to the American Journal of Medicine, cancer misdiagnosis rates only occur in roughly 15 percent of new cancer diagnoses. Cancer misdiagnosis can be caused by a number of factors, ranging from medical negligence to a basic lack of cancer knowledge in the medical community. In some cases, cancer misdiagnosis is medically unavoidable, despite the use of all appropriate diagnostic processes and procedures. In cases where a particular party is at fault, patients may be able to file a cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit.
What Is Cancer?
Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled division and growth of abnormal cells. Cancer begins in a certain area of the body, as indicated by its classified type. In its more advanced stages, cancer will often metastasize, or spread to other areas of the body. When cancer metastasis occurs, treatment becomes more difficult and the outcome is generally poorer. Cancer symptoms and presentation vary depending on factors such as the type, stage, and location of the cancer.
General signs and symptoms of cancer may include:
- Headaches and bodily pain in specific areas
- Unexplained fever
- Fatigue that does not improve with rest
- Unintentional weight loss
- Skin changes or lumps under the skin
Cancer is one of the most misunderstood diseases in the medical community. Despite decades of research and data analysis, the causes and nature of cancer are not exactly known. This lack of knowledge regarding cancer plays a significant role in cancer misdiagnosis.
Often, cancer does not have a straight-forward and clinically outlined presentation. As a result, it can be difficult to determine if a specific set of symptoms is caused by cancer. Furthermore, most types of cancer exhibit no symptoms, making cancer diagnosis virtually impossible without the use of specialized cancer screening techniques.
Commonly Misdiagnosed Cancers
Commonly misdiagnosed cancers include breast, colorectal, lung, and pancreatic cancer, among others. Data indicates that these cancers are often misdiagnosed due to the fact that they are also among the most common types of cancer. For example, research indicates that one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer. Misdiagnosis of these cancers often occurs due to the similarity of cancer symptoms to the symptoms of other, non-cancerous conditions.
Cancer misdiagnosis may occur in these common cancers because:
- Inflammatory breast cancer exhibits similar symptoms to other inflammatory breast conditions, such as mastitis and fibrocystic breast disease.
- Colorectal cancer diagnosis may be confused with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis.
- Lung cancer symptoms are typically similar to lung infections, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and tuberculosis.
- Pancreatic cancer presentation is often similar to the presentation of IBDs, pancreatitis, and diabetes.
Faulty Cancer Screening
Diagnostic testing may provide false positive or false negative results. False positive test results indicate cancer when the condition is not present. Likewise, false negative results indicate the absence of cancer in cancer patients. Faulty cancer screening often occurs due to imperfections in the testing process. For example, cancer screening may misidentify abnormal cells as cancerous when they are not. Imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) may fail to identify cancerous lesions that are too small for detection. Additionally, faulty cancer results may occur from negligence or incompetence of medical professionals who administer the tests.
Types of Cancer Misdiagnosis
Cancer misdiagnosis often involves incidents where a medical professional incorrectly diagnoses cancer, fails to properly diagnose cancer, or provides a delayed diagnosis. Each of these scenarios can result in the delay or absence of critical cancer treatment. Often, cancer misdiagnosis patients miss a crucial timeframe during which cancer treatment is most effective. As a result, the patient’s prognosis and outcome may be poorer than if the proper treatment were provided in a timely manner.
Incorrect Cancer Diagnosis
Incorrect cancer diagnosis occurs when a cancer diagnosis is given to a patient without cancer, or when a diagnosis for a different condition is given to a cancer patient. In both of these scenarios, the patient’s current cancer status is misinterpreted. In many cases, the patient misses a treatment window for cancer or undergoes unnecessary cancer treatment.
Delayed Diagnosis of Cancer
Delayed cancer diagnosis occurs when the medical professional fails to recognize signs of cancer when they are first presented. Delayed cancer diagnosis results in delayed treatment, which can have fatal outcomes for patients. Due to the aggressive nature and rapid growth of some types of cancer, delayed cancer diagnosis can ultimately lead to the patient’s unnecessary death.
Failure to Diagnose Cancer
In these cases, the treating medical professionals completely fail to identify and diagnose a patient’s cancer. Often, the patient does not discover the cancer until it is observed by another doctor or cancer specialist. Patients may only receive a proper diagnosis in advanced stages due to the onset of severe symptoms. In severe cases, patient death may occur before a cancer diagnosis is made.
Medical Negligence in Cancer Misdiagnosis
Cancer misdiagnosis is often the result of medical negligence on the part of the medical professionals and companies responsible for diagnosing and treating the patient. Medical negligence occurs when a treating medical professional acts carelessly or fails to provide a patient with adequate care and attention in a medical setting. Medical negligence is established by comparing the actions of the medical professional in question to the actions of another medical professional with similar qualification, specialization, and experience.
Cancer misdiagnosis medical negligence may occur when the medical professional:
- Fails to acknowledge, investigate, or identify certain symptoms associated with cancer
- Fails to administer appropriate cancer testing when medically indicated by symptoms or risk factors
- Improperly or inappropriately conducts cancer testing, such as a biopsy or MRI scan
- Fails to correctly read or interpret cancer test results provided by a testing laboratory
- Fails to acknowledge or investigate medical recommendations made by a testing laboratory
- Fails to refer a patient to a more qualified specialist in cases where the medical professional lacks the appropriate skills or expertise
- Treats a patient using procedures and processes that are not medically warranted by the patient’s symptoms and current state
- Fails to provide prompt and adequate follow-up care for treatment assessment
Medical Negligence Lawsuits
Patients may be able to file a cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit against negligent doctors who cause additional, avoidable harm to the patient. Medical professionals such as nurses, assistants, laboratory testing personnel, and employing companies and entities may also be held legally responsible for medical negligence. Patients who believe their cancer misdiagnosis was caused by medical negligence should consult an experienced cancer misdiagnosis attorney to discuss legal options.