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Medical Malpractice and Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis

Casey Woodruff

medicineWhen women schedule an annual visit for a mammogram, can they trust that the results are correct? Or should we be concerned about the risk of misdiagnosis when we go to the doctor’s office? According to a recent article from National Public Radio, certain forms of breast cancer are not always easy to diagnose.  As Dr. Jean Simpson of Breast Pathology Consultants points out, “the first thing for women to remember is that making a diagnosis from tissue is part science and part art.” How often do misdiagnoses occur? And how can you begin the process of filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Champaign if you were misdiagnosed?

Learning More About Misdiagnosis and Types of Breast Cancer 

When women are diagnosed with breast cancer, it is typically a pathologist who does the diagnosing, according to the article. Statistically speaking, “pathologists do a great job of identifying invasive cancer,” but “they aren’t as good at spotting two less clear-cut diagnoses.” To be sure, a recent study published in JAMA reported the following statistics:

  • When it comes to invasive breast cancer, pathologists correctly diagnose in about 96 percent of case.
  • Doctors correctly identify “normal tissue” in around 87 percent of cases.
  • Misdiagnoses occur much more often with other forms of breast cancer, such as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which pathologists misdiagnose about 16 percent of the time.
  • Doctors misdiagnose atypia (atypical hyperplasia) 52 percent of the time.

Both DCIS and atypia can turn into invasive breast cancer if they are misdiagnosed. A misdiagnosis that fails to identify cancerous tissue can turn out to be a fatal medical error. Around 32 percent of identified misdiagnoses of atypia were reported as false negatives, meaning that women did not receive the treatment they needed to beat the disease. At the same time, it is important to remember that misdiagnoses can also happen in the other direction, and harms still result.  To be sure, “with atypia, 17 percent of the readings were false positive, meaning that a woman might undergo surgery and other treatment she doesn’t need.”

Filing a Medical Malpractice Claim for Cancer Misdiagnosis

Why do so many misdiagnoses happen when it comes to breast cancer? According to Dr. David Rimm, a pathologist at Yale School of Medicine, it is much easier to spot invasive cancer than other forms. When he is looking at invasive cancer, he can write down key characteristics: “this cluster of cells has enlarged and irregularly shaped nuclei and architecturally irregularly shaped clusters and high nuclear to cytoplasmic ratio.” However, when a sample has only one or two of those characteristics, Dr. Rimm’s job becomes more difficult. As he explains, “then we get into that gray area.”

report from CBS News emphasized that each year about 12 million adults receive misdiagnoses, and about half of those misdiagnoses have “the potential to result in severe harm.” In total, that number means that about 5 percent of adults who seek outpatient diagnoses will be misdiagnosed on an annual basis. When a misdiagnosis occurs and a harm results, the patient may be eligible to seek compensation by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit.

If you or someone you love suffered a serious harm after being the victim of a diagnostic error, you should talk with a Champaign medical malpractice lawyer to learn more about filing a claim for financial compensation. Contact Woodruff Johnson & Evans today.

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