Breast cancer is one of the world’s most hateful killers; nearly 1 in every 36 women will die from the malignancy and its symptoms. As we all know, accurate, early diagnoses are the only way to stave off breast cancer’s harrowing late-stage survival rates.
Good diagnoses can make the difference between a life well-worth living and one filled with fear and agony. People turn to the expertise of medical professionals every day. We look to physicians, technicians and pathologists to literally save our lives. And when we’re handed a diagnosis, no matter how terrifying, we tend to believe what our doctors say. But should we?
Physicians aren’t infallible, and neither are mammograms, ultrasounds, and biopsies. Of course, no aspect of medical science is without confusion. But numerous women are misdiagnosed every year as a result of medical negligence: when physicians and pathologists veer off the proven path and break their professions’ standards.
Cancer misdiagnosis can only lead to one thing: pain. The mental and emotional suffering caused by grueling rounds of unnecessary chemo or radiotherapy would bring anyone to their knees. So would learning only too late that your diagnostic screenings were misread years afterward. But some survivors can find hope, and justice, in filing a civil lawsuit against negligent medical professionals.
When Misdiagnosis Is Medical Malpractice
Like all humans, physicians, technicians, and pathologists suffer from lapses in judgment. When these moments of carelessness lead to misdiagnoses, medical negligence becomes a life-threatening tragedy.
Mammograms, ultrasounds, and MRIs can all be conducted improperly, and the botched results often:
- Indicate no cancer when cancer is present; or
- Indicate cancer when none is present.
Medical images need to be approached like puzzle-pieces; add multiple diagnostics together and we gain a clear view of whether or not malignant cells are present. Treating physicians who fail to take all the evidence into account risk their patients’ lives. They also risk opening themselves to liability in a breast cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit.
Breast Cancer Symptoms & Common Misdiagnoses
Symptoms are crucial, too. But many radiologists fail to take a holistic view of a patient’s health, treating the results of mammography more like gospel than one element of a larger picture. Perhaps that’s why so many women are told they have cancer, when the dark shadows on an X-ray in fact represent perfectly benign growths like fibroadenoma and mastodynia.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer:
- A lump in the breast
- Changes in the size or shape of a breast
- Nipple tenderness
- Milky or bloody discharge from the nipple
- Dimpling or another change in the texture of the breast’s skin
What They’re Confused for:
- Mastitia: an infection of breast tissue
- Fibroadenoma: a benign growth in the breast
- Fibrocystic breast changes: an alteration in breast tissue so normal that doctors no longer consider it a “disease”
Perhaps most importantly, early results need to be checked out. Only through additional testing can we figure out what is, and what isn’t, happening inside the body.
Where Breast Cancer Diagnosis Goes Wrong
To stop the spread of breast cancer, it’s critical that we turn to medical experts. And while we put our trust, and very lives, in the hands of highly-educated professionals, doctors, radiologists, and pathologists make mistakes.
In fact, a recent study suggests that pathologists properly diagnose precancerous cells only around 50% of the time, no better than chance. Your life is worth more than a flip of the coin.
Self-Exams: a Dubious Step to Proper Diagnosis
In its early stages, breast cancer rarely presents any symptoms. Physicians instead rely on patients’ own self-examinations and routine clinical screenings to catch the disease in advance.
A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that whether or not a woman examines her breasts for unexplained lumps has no effect on whether she will ultimately die of breast cancer. Despite these results, numerous marketing campaigns continue to promote self-exams as a way of reducing mortality.
If anything, self-exams only seem to increase the likelihood that a woman without breast cancer will undergo an unnecessary biopsy. In other words, self-exams lead to more false-positives than not.
The medical community has thrown overwhelming support behind yearly mammograms. These x-ray images of breast tissue provide us with pictures of what’s going on “inside,” including abnormal cell growth. They’re essential if we want to catch malignancies before they spread.
Even with an expert radiologist, medical science isn’t exact; it usually relies on the expertise and educated opinions of numerous professionals. Mammograms have to be “read,” and like most things, the x-rays are up for interpretation. Many women who are misdiagnosed seek second opinions; this is always a good idea. But second-opinions can lead to third, fourth, and fifth opinions, and so on.
Some women, like Karen Holliman, end up receiving the same incorrect response from dozens of different doctors: “you don’t have cancer.” But Karen did. It was just diagnosed three years too late. Reviewing her medical records with an MRI Radiologist, Karen learned that “all of the evidence needed to diagnose [her] cancer was available as early as [her] first MRI,” three years earlier. Karen lost three years to “extreme pain and fatigue.”
Ultrasound & MRI
Other common breast cancer screening methods, like ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), all pose the same fundamental problem. No matter how advanced our machinery becomes, those machines have to be operated by technicians and the images they produce need to be scrutinized by a human.
Biopsy is often considered the “gold standard” of cancer diagnosis. But this step too relies on the skills and judgment of imperfect humans. Many pathologists are simply untrained; some hide behind fraudulent credentials.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that individual pathologists got a diagnosis flat-out wrong for 1 in 4 women. If it’s true that approximately 230,000 women are diagnosed with new cases of invasive breast cancer every year, around 57,500 of them may be misdiagnosed.
Breast Cancer in Young Women
According to the American Cancer Society, routine screening for breast cancer should begin at age 40. But nearly 14,000 women under 40 are correctly diagnosed with breast cancer every year.
Still, popular opinion holds that breast cancer isn’t a “young person’s” disease. Unfortunately, that myth seems to have infiltrated the medical community. Some women under the age of 40 are even dismissed by their doctors, told that they’re “too young” to get cancer.
Obviously, that’s not true. Just ask the strong women at BAYS, a California-based support group for breast cancer survivors diagnosed before they hit 45. No matter how unique their stories, almost all of these women have one thing in common: they were misdiagnosed, told that their first mammograms came back “clear” or just shrugged off by a GP. Thankfully, many of BAYS’ members had physicians caring enough to order additional tests, and eventually the disease was identified and a full-blown metastasis averted. But many women aren’t as lucky. Many women have their justified fears denied, and out of pure negligence, some doctors allow undiagnosed cancers to spread unchecked.
We urge women to seek out radiologists who specialize in interpreting mammograms. Specialists identify almost twice as many actual cancers as general radiologists.
6 Signs Breast Cancer May Be Misdiagnosed
Here are the six most common signs that you may have been misdiagnosed with cancer. Did a doctor:
- Diagnose you based on one test result?
- Fail to communicate with other members of a medical team?
- Begin you on a course of treatment that didn’t improve your symptoms?
- Dismiss some of your symptoms?
- Fail to follow-up on a result you found troubling?
- Fail to address your concerns?
These are glaring signs, and it’s crucial that you follow-up on your own intuitions. Learning more about your legal options may be the first step to righting the wrongs of a negligent physician.
Contact Our Philadelphia Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis Attorneys
Medical science has provided us with effective ways of extending lives. But it’s also afforded us more room for error. Quoting one professor of pathology, the New York Times wrote that diagnosing breast cancer “is a 30-year history of confusion, differences of opinion and under- and overtreatment.”
At Marciano & MacAvoy, P.C., we believe everyone deserves experienced care and personal attention. That’s why we take cancer misdiagnoses so seriously. More often than not, physicians make negligent errors because they’re treating patients as numbers, not valuable, unique individuals. We don’t make the same mistake. Our experienced breast cancer misdiagnosis lawyers are here to help.
To learn more about your legal rights, call us at (215) 608-2183 today for a free consultation.