October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is a good time to discuss how doctors can fail to diagnose it. Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer diagnosed in the United States. While doctors correctly diagnose a patient with breast cancer, terrible mistakes sometimes happen. Women in the Atlanta area and the rest of the country get told they don’t have breast cancer when they do. The delay in getting an accurate diagnosis can mean more intensive treatment and a reduced chance of survival.
Standard procedure requires doctors to have a patient suspected of having breast cancer undergo a series of tests. These tests are designed to identify whether abnormal tissue on the breast is indeed cancer or something else. But for these tests to work, the doctor must order them and carefully investigate the results. A physician who fails to recognize the signs of potential breast cancer or misunderstands the test results can easily misdiagnose the patient.
The three highest risk factors for misdiagnosis
In addition, a 2001 study identified what its authors called a “Triad of error” that can contribute to a missed breast cancer diagnosis:
- A younger patient
- Who discovered a lump during a self-exam
- But whose mammogram came back negative
Someone in this situation could be at especially high risk of misdiagnosis, but it can happen to older patients too. When your doctor tells you there is nothing wrong with you or misdiagnoses you with something else, the cancer gets more time to grow and metastasize. The earlier breast cancer is caught, the better the patient’s chances of achieving remission and living cancer-free. Medical malpractice can take away precious time needed to treat your cancer.