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The Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis Problem

On a hot day in August 2009, a Dover, Ohio, woman first noticed a large knot on her right breast. The knot grew after the hospital misdiagnosed her with a fibrous cyst. Sometime later, doctors said it was an infection. More time passed until she eventually had an ultrasound and mammogram. This was when she finally learned she had stage III breast cancer. She ultimately received a proper diagnosis and care and is now in remission. Sadly for others, a delayed breast cancer diagnosis can mean that proper help comes too late.

According to the Center for Disease Control, breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death among women. And by some estimates, up to 80,000 people die each year in part to breast cancer misdiagnosis.

Problems of an Accurate Diagnosis

According to an examination of breast cancer cases by The New York Times, accurately diagnosing the earlier stages of breast cancer is difficult. The tests are vulnerable to outright error and case-by-case disputes over whether cell clusters are cancerous or not.

The most common misdiagnoses include cysts and infections. There is also a lot of disagreement over a certain kind of cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). Differing opinions as to the definition of DCIS has led to differing approaches to treating it. Some experts say it's non-invasive. Others say it is. Depending on the age of the patient, some physicians incorrectly rule out breast cancer altogether.

Experts can agree on one thing; a delayed diagnosis of cancer can have devastating consequences. The longer cancers are left unchecked, the greater the chance they will become unmanageable.

Testing for Breast Cancer

Needle biopsies are commonly used to determine whether cell clusters are cancerous or benign. But they can produce mixed results. A reported 17 percent of DCIS cases can be misdiagnosed through this testing method.

The safest and most reliable way to detect breast cancer is through mammography. But it involves radiation exposure and is not foolproof. According to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, the overall sensitivity of a mammogram is 78 percent.

Conversely, a false cancer diagnosis happens 17 to 30 percent of the time. These errors can lead to needless and extensive cancer treatment as well as physical and emotional hardship on the patient.

Abetting Misdiagnoses

Considering the number of breast cancer misdiagnoses, patients should consider seeking multiple opinions from varying providers for any lumps or deformities felt on their breasts. Other experts recommend considering sonograms and elastography as alternatives to mammography and biopsy to help make sure breast cancer is correctly diagnosed or properly ruled out.

A misdiagnosis causes unnecessary trauma and pain. Whether people undergo needless chemotherapy, radiation and surgery or miss out on the opportunity to have lifesaving treatment, the lives of people who have been misdiagnosed will never be the same.

An experienced personal injury lawyer who is familiar with the medical aspects involved in a breast cancer misdiagnosis claim as well as the legal aspects, can provide strong representation for you. If you or a loved one has been misdiagnosed, you should speak with a New York breast cancer lawyer who can advise you of your rights.