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How Does Breast Cancer Get Misdiagnosed Or Go Undetected?

On Behalf of | Aug 21, 2016 | Medical Malpractice

If a woman finds a hard lump in her breast, a doctor generally orders a mammogram, breast ultrasound, or breast biopsy to determine whether or not it is breast cancer; however, sometimes this doesn’t happen and a doctor fails to diagnose breast cancer.

How Long Can You Have Breast Cancer Without Knowing?

While there is no straight answer to this, some cancers are more easily detected than others. Some cancers can form and grow undetected for 10 years or more, as one study found, making diagnosis and treatment that much more difficult. Many women diagnosed with breast cancer never have any signs or symptoms, and their cancer is found during a mammogram.

Understanding Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the growth of breast cells that cannot be controlled. Those cells continue to divide and produce more cells that are just like it and can eventually form a tumor. A tumor can develop under breast tissue and form a lump that can be detected in a breast exam. When a tumor forms, it can be benign (not dangerous) or malignant (cancerous). Malignant tumors left untreated can spread throughout the body and lead to death. Sadly, this may occur if a doctor acts negligently in the care of a patient.

Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms

Breast cancer symptoms may vary from person to person, and some breast cancers have no obvious symptoms. From lumps to changes in the skin, here are some common symptoms of breast cancer, according to breastcancer.org:

  • Hard lump that has uneven edges
  • Lump in the underarm area
  • Breast pain
  • Swelling in part or all of the breast
  • Skin irritation or dimpling of the skin
  • Nipple pain
  • Changes in the nipple (redness, scaliness, thickening or turning inward)
  • Nipple discharge that isn’t breast milk

Some of these signs or symptoms could indicate a problem other than cancer, but it is important that a woman always sees a doctor if she has any of the above signs or symptoms to get an accurate diagnosis. Unfortunately, even if a woman sees her doctor, it is possible that breast cancer will go undetected or misdiagnosed.

How Is Breast Cancer Misdiagnosed?

Some common ways doctors fail to accurately diagnose breast cancer includes:

  • Failing to order the appropriate tests. When a woman appears to have a symptom of breast cancer, a doctor may ask the woman a series of questions. If the doctor finds that the woman doesn’t have any first-degree relatives such as parents or siblings with breast cancer, a doctor may not take the breast cancer symptom seriously. Also, if the woman was under 50 years of age, the doctor may fail to order the necessary tests or follow-up. Although breast cancer may be more common in older women and those with relatives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, breast cancer can still affect younger women with no family history of breast cancer. This is why doctors need to take every breast cancer symptom seriously and order the appropriate tests.
  • Failing to interpret the test results correctly. When a doctor does order a breast ultrasound, mammogram, or breast biopsy, it is possible that the doctor can fail to read the test results accurately. In fact, a doctor may misinterpret a pathology report or get patients’ charts mixed up and provide the wrong information to the patient. It is also possible that a pathologist, ultrasound technician, or other lab or medical professional may have failed to do his job correctly, which caused the inaccurate report. Sadly, this could cause a gap in a patient receiving timely treatment and allow the cancer to grow. Sometimes an inaccurate report or failing to read the test results correctly can actually lead to a benign tumor being classified as malignant – resulting in the removal of a healthy breast.
  • Fails to act. When a doctor gets a positive test result back from the lab or ultrasound department, it is possible for a doctor to misplace it or accidentally put it in another patient’s file. When this happens, a doctor may forget to follow up with the patient, and a patient may assume that “no news is good news.” If a doctor fails to follow up with a patient regarding a positive test result and the delay in getting treatment causes a patient harm, it is grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer is essential in removing the cancer and saving a person’s life. If a doctor fails to order the right tests, fails to interpret the test results correctly, or fails to act, the cancer is given the time to advance. When cancer continues to get more serious, it can metastasize and spread throughout the body. When cancer reaches this level, the cancer cure rate is reduced and the chance of death increases.

Are You Entitled To Damages After A Cancer Misdiagnosis?

Breast cancer misdiagnoses can have a tremendous impact on a woman’s life. Pursuing a medical malpractice claim against negligent doctors may help victims of misdiagnoses seek compensation for:

  • Medical expenses, including reimbursement for medical costs related to the misdiagnosis as well as covering any current and future cancer treatment
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of income
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Wrongful death if a loved one died due to a misdiagnosis

The failure to diagnose a serious medical condition can change someone’s life forever. Negligent medical professionals must be held accountable for overlooking a patient’s condition and not providing them with the quality of care they deserve.

If a misdiagnosis of breast cancer caused you unnecessary pain and suffering or if it claimed the life of your loved one, you have grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit or wrongful death lawsuit. Please give our office a call today to learn about your rights in a no-obligation, free consultation.