Faulty cancer screening occurs when a patient’s cancer or lack of cancer is falsely identified in the results of a cancer test. Faulty cancer screening may indicate the presence of cancer in patients who do not have cancer. Likewise, faulty cancer screening may indicate the absence of cancer in patients who do have cancer. Faulty cancer screening can have devastating results for patients when these false results are not further investigated. In many cases, faulty cancer screening can lead to cancer misdiagnosis in the patient.
Human Error in Faulty Cancer Screening
Faulty cancer screening may be caused by a number of human factors, such as doctor negligence during the preparation process or accidental labeling issues in the tissue or cell samples sent out for laboratory testing. It is estimated that there are roughly 15 to 20 steps during the entire process of taking a cell sample for a laboratory biopsy. During the course of this process, there are several opportunities for human error to take place.
Faulty cancer screening may occur as a result of:
- Failure to follow proper protocol when conducting testing or collecting samples for laboratory analysis
- Negligence of laboratory pathologists in analyzing or interpreting samples collected for laboratory analysis
- Contamination of a sample during the collection, preservation, or observation process
- Mislabeling of samples or test results, which may result in a patient receiving another patient’s results
Testing Flaws in Faulty Cancer Screening
Faulty cancer screening may also be caused by testing flaws, such as defective equipment or natural difficulty in identifying signs of cancer. Due to the generally misunderstood nature of cancer, there is no fool-proof method for cancer detection. This leads to a certain level of uncertainty during the testing and diagnosis process. Furthermore, cancer may develop in virtually limitless ways, making it difficult to establish a rigid identification system.
Faulty cancer screening may occur when:
- Only a microscopic amount of cancerous cells is present in the patient, which may be undetected by imaging tests such as PET scans
- An imaging test such as an MRI is unable to distinguish between a cancerous and non-cancerous lesion or spot, such as on the patient’s breast during a mammography or a CT scan for lung cancer
Effects of Faulty Cancer Screening
Depending on the outcome, faulty cancer screening can have severe physical, emotional, and financial impact on the patient. In cases of false negative results, cancer patients may miss a crucial time window for treatment. This can result in irreversible progression of the cancer, which can lead to the need for more aggressive and debilitating treatment. In severe cases, death results from the untreatable growth and spread of the cancer.
False positive faulty cancer screening also places a large burden on patients who do not have cancer. In addition to the costs and stress associated with additional testing, the emotional impact often lingers for patients. A Danish study published in Annals of Family Medicine revealed that women who were falsely diagnosed with breast cancer experienced negative psychological repercussions for up to three years after learning of the misdiagnosis.
Preventing Faulty Cancer Screening
Faulty cancer screening is a topic of controversy and debate in the medical community. Many experts believe that incidences of faulty cancer screening can be significantly reduced with the design and implementation of special systems for consistency and quality-control. Additionally, increased patient and doctor education on faulty cancer screening and potential indications can improve awareness and ultimately reduce cancer misdiagnosis.
Suggestions for system-wide prevention of faulty cancer screening include:
- Requiring certification for all predictive and prognostic tests performed by laboratories
- Creating a validation system for lab results, during which the results from one laboratory are verified by another independent laboratory
- Designing a national system to ensure staff competency and training, equipment maintenance, and operation procedure standardization
- Forming a non-governmental national body to accredit and monitor medical laboratories
It is important to take into consideration the possibility that faulty cancer screening has occurred. Patients are encouraged to seek a second opinion if a doctor makes a confirmed cancer diagnosis based on the results of a single test. Likewise, doctors are highly encouraged to re-test patients when cancer screening suggests that cancerous cells or growths may be present. If the patient’s symptoms fail to match with the cancer diagnosis, faulty cancer screening may have occurred and should be medically investigated.
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