What Types of Cancer Are Commonly Misdiagnosed?
Cancer misdiagnosis is a deadly problem that impacts a significant share of vulnerable patients. Estimates vary, but research conducted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine indicates that nearly one in 10 patients with “Big Three” diseases (infections, vascular disease, and cancer) will be subject to some type of diagnostic or other medical error.
The frequency of cancer misdiagnosis is alarming, in part, because the stakes are so high. The aforementioned study found that more than half of those eventually diagnosed with “Big Three” conditions suffered permanent disability or death as a result of their previous misdiagnosis.
In the aftermath of a cancer misdiagnosis, patients may find that their medical expenses escalate rapidly — while potential opportunities for cost-effective care become all but nonexistent. As a result, many patients have filed cancer misdiagnosis lawsuits seeking both compensation and justice.
In this guide, we explain why cancer misdiagnosis occurs, which types of patients are most susceptible, and how medical malpractice lawyers can deliver much-needed relief.
How Does a Cancer Misdiagnosis Happen?
A variety of factors contribute to the misdiagnosis of cancer. The problem can lie with specific health care professionals who may confuse common signs of cancer with other issues or might even lack the empathy needed to truly take patients' concerns into account.
Often, doctors or nurses note symptoms that deserve extra attention but fail to follow through with additional testing. Even if they do, lab technicians might not administer these tests correctly.
General miscommunication can also prove problematic. After all, health care professionals need access to a wealth of information about their patients, including recent medical concerns and family history. These details can play heavily into diagnoses, especially given the role of genetic predispositions.
The Common Types of Misdiagnosed Cancers
While any type of cancer holds the potential for misdiagnosis, this is especially common among the key categories outlined below.
1. Breast Cancer
At first glance, breast cancer might not seem like a probable candidate for misdiagnosis. In reality, however, this type of cancer is often confused with fibrocystic breasts. Once regarded as a disease but now classified as a less harmful condition, this involves nodular breast tissue that presents as lumps.
Patients who have previously been designated as having fibrocystic breasts are at greater risk of cancer misdiagnosis, as medical professionals may assume that changes in texture reflect ordinary fibrocystic fluctuations.
Occasionally, new mothers may mistakenly be diagnosed with mastitis. This common condition prompts painful breast tissue inflammation, but without the lumps associated with many types of breast cancer. Not all breast cancer patients exhibit obvious lumps, however, so misdiagnosis is common for cases involving inflammation alone. Either way, the result is the same: an unacceptable delay in treatment.
2. Lung Cancer
Many conditions that compromise lung function share symptoms with cancer, creating an elevated potential for misdiagnosis. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, in particular, can easily be confused with lung cancer, especially as both tend to cause coughing and shortness of breath. In fact, COPD is a common risk factor for lung cancer.
Other patients may miss out on lung cancer diagnoses because they are assumed to have pneumonia. This is an especially worrisome problem for patients who have previously suffered frequent bouts of pneumonia. Doctors may assume that they once again have the same disease, rather than checking for additional problems.
3. Colon Cancer
Inflammatory bowel diseases cause long-term discomfort for many patients. Often, they find themselves cycling through a series of ineffective solutions while assuming that relief is out of reach.
This complacency may be further fueled by doctors who may not realize that colon cancer could be at play. This can prove tragic, as colon cancer is thought to be one of the most treatable types of cancer when detected early on.
Colon cancer may also be confused with diverticulitis, which occurs when inflammation forms in the small pouches of the digestive system. The key distinction between these two conditions often involves pericolonic lymph nodes. If medical professionals fail to detect these, they may assume that diverticulitis is the culprit behind symptoms such as pain, nausea, or constipation.
4. Pancreatic Cancer
Early detection is always crucial for cancer patients, but it's especially urgent for those suffering from pancreatic cancer. If misdiagnosis leads to delays in medical treatment, it can prove deadly — particularly when these delays mean that less invasive treatment options are no longer available.
In many cases, pancreatic cancer is mistaken for common gallbladder diseases. An alarming study published in the Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery reveals that this misdiagnosis frequently leads to cholecystectomy (or surgical removal of the gallbladder). This study also indicates that pancreatic cancer is frequently misdiagnosed as acid reflux or peptic ulcers.
5. Skin Cancer
While most medical professionals are proactive about looking into unusual growths, some may assume that cancerous skin lesions are actually benign. Known as seborrheic keratoses, these become more common with age and may occasionally look like cancerous growths.
Conversely, benign growths are sometimes misdiagnosed as cancerous. Overly aggressive treatment plans can then create their own set of problems, often leading to major emotional suffering. Such misdiagnoses may prevent patients and their health care providers from taking future growths as seriously.
Next Steps If Your Cancerous Tumor Is Diagnosed as Another Medical Condition
Did you recently learn that your doctors misdiagnosed cancer? It's only natural to feel worried and angry if your doctors misdiagnosed cancer, failing to uphold their duty of care. Add rapidly escalating medical bills to the mix, and it's easy to get overwhelmed.
The first step is always to secure quality medical care, but your journey to justice doesn't end there. Once you feel confident that a competent medical team is in your corner, you can move forward with a medical malpractice lawsuit. Misdiagnosis errors are often at the center of any given medical malpractice claim, so you may stand a solid chance of enjoying a positive case resolution.
If you're ready to move forward with legal action after failing to receive proper treatment, don't hesitate to work with a cancer misdiagnosis lawyer from The Moore Law Firm. Get in touch today to schedule your free consultation.