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Cancer Misdiagnosis – Is it Common Enough to Worry About?

Note: This post was updated on 11/2/21 to reflect recent statistics.

“Cancer” is an ominous word that most of us hope we will never hear from our doctor. This fear is understandable given that almost everyone has been touched by some form of the disease – either personally or through the fight of a friend or loved one.

Certainly, great progress has been made, with more treatment options and medications than ever before. Nevertheless, cancer is still an enormous health concern. According to the American Cancer Society, it was estimated that approximately 1.9 million new cancer cases would be diagnosed in 2021. Additionally, an estimated 608,570 Americans are expected to die from cancer in 2021, averaging to 1,670 deaths each day.

It’s safe to say that concerns related to cancer diagnosis are real. But are there instances of cancer misdiagnosis? And if so, is it common enough to worry about? We will discuss those issues below.

What Is a Cancer Misdiagnosis?

Cancer misdiagnosis can occur in multiple ways. One – the failure to diagnose – occurs when a person actually has cancer, but it is not detected and diagnosed.

Misdiagnosis also occurs when cancer is detected, but it is misclassified. In other words, a patient has a certain type of cancer, but is diagnosed (wrongly) as being another form of cancer.

Finally, a false positive is a form of misdiagnosis which occurs when a patient is diagnosed with cancer, but the patient does not actually have cancer. The following are just a few examples of mistakes which can lead to misdiagnosis:

  • Incorrect analysis of a biopsy
  • Incorrect interpretation of symptoms
  • Improper use of screening guidelines by healthcare professionals

Cancer Misdiagnosis Is More Common Than People Think

You might be surprised by the frequency of cancer misdiagnosis. In one Johns Hopkins Hospital study, a review of tissue samples from around the country determined that one out of every 71 cases had been misdiagnosed. Worse yet, of the biopsies labeled as cancerous, 20 percent were misclassified.

Another study is cause for even greater concern. Boston Magazine cites research from the BMJ Quality and Safety journal stating that cancer misdiagnosis may result up to 28 percent of the time, despite 60.5 percent of physicians believing the number to be much lower. The cancers misdiagnosed most often are breast cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, and sarcomas.

Dangers Associated with Cancer Misdiagnosis

For lucky patients, misdiagnosis may not ultimately have harmful effects. On the other hand, great harm can indeed result from misdiagnosis.

For example, the misclassification of cancer may result in a patient undergoing the wrong form of treatment, which turns out to be either harmful or ineffective. On the other hand, someone who has cancer, but is not diagnosed at all, will not receive treatment when they should have.

Obviously, this can result in a worsening of the condition, and even death. A patient can also incur massive medical and hospital bills.

Is Cancer Misdiagnosis a Form of Medical Malpractice?

Although it is not always the case, cancer misdiagnosis may certainly result from medical malpractice. Doctors and other healthcare providers must meet the applicable standard of care for their profession, under the applicable circumstances of the misdiagnosis. Determining the standard of care under the particular circumstances often requires the use of expert testimony.

If a doctor’s failure to meet the applicable standard of care results in harm to the patient, the doctor has committed malpractice and may be held liable for damages to the patient.

Call with Questions

Medical malpractice issues can be very complicated, requiring careful investigation and analysis. If you believe you have suffered injury as the result of cancer misdiagnosis or any other form of medical malpractice, you will undoubtedly have questions.

Please call us, and the experienced medical malpractice lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield will be happy to answer your questions. We believe that society can only be protected from great harm by holding wrongdoers responsible for their actions.