Skin Cancer Misdiagnosis

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and is also commonly misdiagnosed. Skin cancer develops when a mutation in the DNA of a skin cell causes the skin cell to split and reproduce abnormally. The most common cause of skin cancer is over exposure to the sun or other ultraviolet light. However, other factors such as exposure to toxic substances or a weakened immune system may also increase the risk of developing skin cancer in areas of the body not normally exposed to ultraviolet light. Skin cancer begins in the epidermis, which is the top layer of skin cells.

Types of Skin Cancer

There are three main types of skin cancer, as there are three types of skin cells that make up the epidermis. Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma can all be deadly. Catching any type of skin cancer in early stages is the best way to stop the spread of the cancer and begin to treat the infected cells.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. The skin’s basal cells line the deepest layer of the epidermis. Basal cell carcinoma often causes lesions or sores on the skin. While this type of skin cancer can be disfiguring, especially if not treated quickly enough, it seldom spreads to other body areas. Only in rare cases does basal cell carcinoma metastasize and become deadly.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Actinic keratosis is a growth that is part of the skin’s defense against exposure to ultraviolet light. These growths can advance into squamous cell carcinoma if not treated early enough. The squamous cells make up the top layers of the epidermis. These can occur in any area of the body, but most frequently occur in places that receive the most exposure to ultraviolet light. Squamous cell carcinomas can resemble warts or sores. These can quickly become deadly, so a physician should be consulted at the first signs of a squamous cell carcinoma.


Melanoma is the rarest form of skin cancer, but is also causes the most deaths of any type of skin cancer. If caught in early stages, it can almost always be cured. Melanocytes are the pigment producing skin cells. A melanoma usually resembles a mole, but can be pink, blue, red, brown, or purple. Patients are advised to consult a physician if a mole is raised or abnormally shaped, as it could be an early stage melanoma.

Reasons for a Misdiagnosis of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is increasingly misdiagnosed by physicians. In many cases, skin cancer is incorrectly diagnosed as eczema or another less serious disease. Misdiagnoses, failure to diagnose, and delayed diagnosis can all be very dangerous for the patient, as the cancer continues to progress without treatment.

Reasons that a doctor may incorrectly diagnose or miss skin cancer:

  • Diagnosed condition only based on family history and risk factors
  • Failed to recommend further testing, diagnosing on visible signs only
  • Medical history or full physical exam not completed
  • Failure to refer patient to a specialist


A physician may also incorrectly interpret the results of a diagnostic test, and not recommend further testing for the patient. Dermatopathologists are trained to look for abnormalities that may indicate skin cancer, while pathologists are not as highly trained, and may fail to diagnose the results of a biopsy properly. Pathologists are often used by doctor’s offices and hospitals, however, as services are often more inexpensive. Managed care plans that are instituted within health care facilities may also prevent a doctor from making a choice about where to send a tissue sample for testing.

Handling a Skin Cancer Misdiagnosis

If a patient is suffering from skin cancer, and the condition has been allowed to worsen because of a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, the physician or hospital may be liable. Skin cancer can have life-altering or fatal consequences, and physicians should be alert for the first signs, so that the condition can be treated as early as possible. When a physician fails to diagnose because of incompetence or financial concerns and limitations, patients suffer unreasonably. Contacting an attorney can be the first step towards receiving rightful compensation for a negligent misdiagnosis of skin cancer.




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“Misdiagnosis of Skin Cancer can be Fatal.” Medscape Medical News. Medscape Medical News, 03 May 2000. Web. 7 Nov 2013. <>.

“Skin Cancer.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical education and Research, 13 Jul 2013. Web. 7 Nov 2013. <>.

“What is Skin Cancer.” Skin Cancer Foundation. The Skin Cancer Foundation, n.d. Web. 7 Nov 2013. <>.