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How Can Cancer Be Misdiagnosed?

A primary way to help minimize the damage of cancer is early detection. Yet, the Journal of Clinical Oncology estimates that cancer misdiagnosis occurs as often as 28% of the time and can rise up to 44% in specific cancers. A misdiagnosis can cause extensive damage and pain and can prove fatal. Along with the pain to the patient and their family, diagnosis errors cost the nation almost $7 billion, approximately one-third of the country’s health care spending. So how does cancer misdiagnosis occur?

Common Ways Cancer Can Be Misdiagnosed

The American Cancer Society® estimates that over 1,600,000 new cancer cases will be diagnosed this year. Many more may potentially have cancer but never know or be diagnosed with the incorrect cancer. The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore studied the tissue samples of 6,000 cancer patients and found 71 cases where their condition was misdiagnosed. One out of five of the patients had their cancer misclassified.

Reasons why misdiagnosis might occur:

  • Misidentification of symptoms – One of the main reasons a doctor may not detect cancer or mislabel the condition for another disease is because they may not interpret the symptoms properly. For example, a woman may display signs of weakness and tiredness and be diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, when she actually as breast cancer.
  • Fragmented patient medical history – In a Best Doctors® study, 38.5% of 400 doctors believed that fragmented medical records led to incorrectly diagnosing cancer. In such cases, it is important that doctors and hospital staff comprehensively look at a patient’s medical history and the probability of certain illnesses.
  • Errors in lab test readings – A pathologist studies the body tissues and fluids to look for signs of abnormalities and unusual cell growth. However, they can misread the results, thus leading to an error in diagnosing. The pathologists also do not usually know the patient’s medical history, which can also make it more difficult to read the lab results.
  • Not enough training in subspecialties – Cancer is a complicated, intricate condition. Its many subcategories can be difficult to detect or analyze. Often, doctors have specialized training in subsections of cancer. Because not all doctors are comprehensively educated in subspecialties, they may overlook important information.

The cancers most commonly misdiagnosed include:

  • Lymphoma
  • Breast Cancer
  • Sarcomas
  • Melanoma

Tips on Protecting Yourself from a Misdiagnosis

While it can be difficult to predict or prevent a misdiagnosis, there are steps patients can take to help themselves. Often, individuals take their doctor’s judgement as the only answer. However, they can make mistakes.

Tips to minimize misdiagnosis:

  • Know your medical history – It is important to know if your family has any history of serious medical conditions. Take the time to find out, if you do not know. If you do not have access to that information, look back to your own past health records.
  • Write down symptoms before meeting with your doctor – It can be easy to forget specific details when you speak to your physician. Writing your ailments will ensure you give your doctor a comprehensive understanding of what troubles you.
  • Ask, “what else can it be?” – Asking questions can prove helpful in opening avenues to other conditions. Asking your doctor what else the symptoms may mean can have them think of alternatives.
  • Get a second opinion – If you believe that your doctor may have missed something about your condition, get a second opinion. Someone else may be able to recognize something your initial physician missed.

Doctors have a responsibility to provide quality care to their patients. If they do not follow a certain standard, they may err in diagnosing. If a physician or hospital staff member fails to properly diagnose cancer, they expose their patients to serious dangers. If you or a loved one suffered because of a misdiagnosis, contact our New Jersey medical malpractice attorneys today. We can review your case and inform you of your legal rights. Call today for a free consultation.

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