Why cancer can be misdiagnosed

Cancer can be a very deadly disease, but the process of diagnosing it is fraught with misclassifications, delays and false positives.

Cancer is a rampant and terrible disease. We are filled with fear and anxiety at even the smallest possibility of receiving a diagnosis of cancer. As most of us know, one of the keys to beating cancer is starting treatment when the cancer is at an early stage. Therefore, it is essential that cancer diagnoses be made as early and as accurately as possible. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to be erroneously diagnosed with a different type of cancer than you actually have, or to experience a significant delay in diagnosis. Both of these scenarios result in a delay in initiating the appropriate treatment for your type of cancer. Furthermore, people are sometimes told they have cancer when they actually do not.

According to research from The Johns Hopkins Hospital, as many as one in every five cases of cancer is wrongly classified. Why does this happen?

When there is no cancer

Despite medical technology advancements, the process of diagnosing cancer often still revolves around a doctor looking at slides under a microscope. Accordingly, a pathologist (the doctor who analyzes the biopsy specimen), may make a mistake in his or her analysis due to inexperience, stress, or haste. Moreover, a pathologist usually does not have important information about the patient's clinical picture, including his or her symptoms, medical history, or risk factors.

A false positive wreaks havoc in a person's life. Although this sounds like a welcomed relief, a misdiagnosis of cancer often results in severe anxiety, unnecessary and dangerous medical treatment, distrust in doctors, and other traumatic disruptions to one's life.

When there is cancer, but the wrong kind is diagnosed

A patient might be diagnosed with an inaccurate type of cancer for the same reasons mentioned above. Inexperience with a particular type of cancer, for example, may cause a pathologist to miss subtle markers that distinguish the cancer from another type of cancer. Mistakes of this nature often have devastating consequences as they impact the type, intensity, and duration of treatment.

One way to begin addressing this problem is for a second pathologist to double check the work of the first pathologist.

There are also technologies in the works, including a blood test being developed by Johns Hopkins. However, these new testing methods have only been tested in limited situations and may result in misdiagnoses as well. Still, they give hope that some cancers might be caught much earlier than before.

Delayed diagnosis

A delay in diagnosing cancer is also a catastrophic prob lem in many cases. For example, a doctor may fail to appreciate the significance of a patient's abnormal test result and not order a follow-up test that would have revealed cancer. Alternatively, a doctor may overlook changes in the patient's clinical picture or diagnostic history that indicate breast cancer or skin cancer. Consequently, the patient proceeds as normal, without knowing that he or she has cancer that is growing and spreading.

If you have been affected by a wrong cancer diagnosis in Michigan, whether it was a false positive, inaccurate diagnosis, or delayed diagnosis, an attorney may be able to help.