Cancer is a difficult illness to face. Invasive treatments combined with substantial mental anxiety can take a toll on your health above and beyond the disease itself.
But what if you found out it all wasn’t really necessary? In more and more cases across the country, patients are coming forward with stories of misdiagnosis of cancer. When some other condition is mistaken as cancer, patients are not only forced to endure unnecessary and harmful therapies, they are denied the chance to treat the true cause of their symptoms.
On the other hand, when cancer is missed altogether for a period of time, the disease can progress to a point it never would have reached but for an inaccurate diagnosis. Whether another disease or illness is mistaken as cancer or cancer goes unnoticed by doctors, misdiagnosis can drastically impact patients, sometimes even fatally.
Causes of Cancer Misdiagnosis
The Journal of Clinical Oncology found that for some types of cancer, up to 44 percent of cases are misdiagnosed. Overall, according to the American Journal of Medicine, around 15 percent of all medical cases in developed countries are misdiagnosed.
What’s going on? Some experts point to an overreliance on imaging technology, and a failure to follow up to get confirmatory results. In a study published in the medical journal Radiology, radiologists failed to detect abnormalities in 25-32 percent of cases in which a disease was actually present. In about two percent of cases, radiologists incorrectly diagnosed a disease in a patient who was, in fact, healthy.
Another commonly cited problem is the way doctors are trained to think. Physicians do not have a lot of time with patients, and in medical school they’re taught that “when you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.” This cognitive shortcut does save time in the majority of cases, when the obvious cause of the problem is in fact the correct diagnosis. But, for the minority of patients with more complex cases, jumping to conclusions can be disastrous. The problem of doctor overconfidence is especially prevalent when patients are suffering from an unexpected condition, such as when breast cancer is present in a male or young female.
Sometimes, doctors are simply inexperienced, lacking the expertise in a given field to make the correct diagnosis. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute illustrates how patients can benefit from seeing an experienced, specialized physician. In the study, individual radiologists were asked their clinical opinion based on a standardized set of 60 mammography films with known long-term patient results. Those radiologists who read 100 or fewer mammograms per month were able to detect, on average, 71.5 percent of cancers. However, radiologists who read more than 300 mammograms per month could pick out an average of 78.6 percent of cancers.
Medical Providers Can Take Several Steps to Prevent Misdiagnosis
Problematically, all treatment decisions typically flow from an initial diagnosis. When this diagnosis is incorrect, it means either the patient is getting treatment they don’t need (which, in the case of a cancer misdiagnosis, can be very painful, disfiguring and debilitating) or their condition is going ignored.