Being diagnosed with cancer is a challenging ordeal, but what happens when you discover that you've been wrongly diagnosed? In this blog, we discuss what can lead to a cancer misdiagnosis, cancers that are often misdiagnosed, and what to do if you suspect you’ve been misdiagnosed.
Understanding Medical Malpractice and Misdiagnosis
Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional fails to provide standard care, resulting in harm or injury to the patient. Misdiagnosis, a form of medical malpractice, happens when a doctor incorrectly identifies a patient's illness. In the case of cancer, this could mean diagnosing someone with cancer who doesn't have it or failing to diagnose someone who does.
How Does a Cancer Misdiagnosis Happen?
Cancer misdiagnosis is a grave and, unfortunately, not an uncommon issue. This error can occur due to a variety of reasons, ranging from diagnostic errors and physician negligence to laboratory mistakes, technical failures, or even delays in testing.
Physicians might err in their diagnosis if they fail to conduct a thorough examination or neglect to perform essential tests. For instance, a doctor might overlook the need for a biopsy after an abnormal mammogram, leading to a delayed breast cancer diagnosis. Similarly, laboratory errors such as a false-positive reading can result in a patient being diagnosed with cancer when they do not have it, or vice versa.
Miscommunication is another major factor that can lead to misdiagnosis. This can occur when there's a lack of proper communication between different healthcare providers or between the doctor and the patient. Incomplete medical histories or inadequate understanding of the patient's symptoms can also contribute to misdiagnosis.
Common symptoms like fatigue, unexplained weight loss, or persistent cough can mimic other diseases, leading to cancers like lung or colorectal cancer being overlooked or misdiagnosed. Also, certain types of cancer, such as ovarian or pancreatic, are particularly challenging to diagnose due to their vague symptoms and lack of early detection tests.
The impact of a missed or delayed diagnosis on a patient and their loved ones is profound, both emotionally and physically. It can lead to unnecessary treatments, increased medical costs, and emotional distress. Worse still, it can result in the cancer progressing to a more advanced stage, reducing treatment options and survival rates.
Types of Cancer That Are Commonly Misdiagnosed
Any type of cancer can be misdiagnosed. However, there are some types of cancer that are more commonly misdiagnosed by medical professionals, including:
- Breast cancer. Fibrocystic breasts, a benign condition characterized by lumpy or rope-like breast tissue, are often mistaken for breast cancer due to overlapping symptoms. The most common symptoms include breast lumps or nodules, nipple discharge, and localized pain—all of which can also be indicative of breast cancer. This similarity in symptoms frequently leads to misdiagnosis. The diagnostic tools used to identify fibrocystic breasts and breast cancer can sometimes yield confusing results. Mammography and ultrasound are commonly used imaging techniques that can detect abnormalities in the breast tissues. However, both fibrocystic changes and cancerous tumors can appear as dense masses in these images, making it challenging for clinicians to differentiate between the two. In such cases, a biopsy may be recommended.
- Lung cancer. Numerous health conditions that affect the lungs present similar symptoms to lung cancer, thereby increasing the likelihood of a misdiagnosis. In particular, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) can often be mistaken for lung cancer due to shared symptoms such as persistent coughing and difficulty breathing. Interestingly, COPD is also considered a common risk factor for developing lung cancer. Similarly, cases of pneumonia may also be misinterpreted as lung cancer due to overlapping symptoms.
- Colon cancer. People with diverticulitis can often have their condition confused with colon cancer. However, there is a key distinction between these two illnesses, which is the presence of (or lack thereof) pericolic mesenteric lymph nodes.
- Pancreatic cancer. Many people with common gallbladder diseases, acid reflux, or peptic ulcers can be misdiagnosed with pancreatic cancer (see this study from the Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery).
- Skin cancer. The identification of unusual skin growths can sometimes be challenging, even for medical professionals. Seborrheic keratoses, benign skin lesions that become more prevalent with age, can often mimic the appearance of cancerous growths. This resemblance can lead to misdiagnoses, where harmless lesions are mistaken for malignant ones. On the other hand, there are instances where these benign growths are incorrectly identified as cancerous. This can result in the implementation of overly aggressive treatments that may cause unnecessary physical and emotional distress.
As patients, it's important to ensure you're receiving thorough care. Do not hesitate to seek second opinions if your symptoms persist or if you feel your concerns are being overlooked. Ask your doctors about the tests being done, their purpose, and the interpretation of the results. Being proactive about your health can aid in early detection and accurate diagnosis, potentially saving lives.
Cancer Misdiagnosis | Determining If You Have a Case
If you suspect you're a victim of such medical malpractice, it's crucial to know your rights and how to proceed. Below, we will guide you through the necessary steps to determine if you have a case and what to do next.
Before you can make a claim, you need evidence to prove two things: that the doctor made a mistake and that the error caused harm. Such evidence includes:
- Medical records. Your medical records are a crucial piece of evidence because they can show what the doctor diagnosed, how they reached that diagnosis, and the prescribed treatment.
- Expert testimony. An expert witness, usually another doctor, can testify on whether the care you received met the medical standards or not.
- Proof of harm. You must show that the misdiagnosis caused physical, emotional, or financial harm. This could be additional medical bills, lost wages, or pain and suffering.
Finding a Medical Malpractice Attorney
A medical malpractice attorney can guide you through the complex legal process. Look for an attorney with experience in medical malpractice and a successful track record. Consult with several attorneys to find one you feel comfortable with and who understands your situation.
The Process & What to Expect
Pursuing a medical malpractice claim can be a lengthy process. After gathering evidence and finding an attorney, you'll likely go through these stages:
- Filing a claim. Your attorney will file a lawsuit against the healthcare provider(s) involved.
- Discovery. Both sides collect information from each other. This is when the medical records and expert testimonies come into play.
- Negotiation/settlement. Many cases are settled out of court. Your attorney will negotiate with the defendant's attorney to reach a fair settlement.
- Trial. If a settlement can't be reached, the case goes to trial, where a verdict will be decided.
Let Us Help with Your Case
Navigating a medical malpractice case can be complex and stressful. However, with the right knowledge and legal support, you can seek justice and compensation for the harm caused by a cancer misdiagnosis. At the Law Offices of Charles R. Gueli, our attorney is equipped to help you or a loved one pursue compensation in a misdiagnosis medical malpractice case.
Contact us at (516) 628-6402 or by completing our online inquiry form to schedule an initial consultation.