The Two Most Common Mistakes Doctors Make That Delay Your Diagnosis of Breast Cancer

Detecting breast cancer early gives you a very high likelihood of surviving the cancer. That likelihood goes down dramatically once the cancer begins to spread. That is why doctors generally recommend routine breast cancer screening. Breast cancer screening consists of clinical breast examinations and mammograms. An abnormal result on either of these screening tests should result in diagnostic testing to determine whether the abnormal result is due to breast cancer.

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Mistake Number 1: Misdiagnosis Based On A Clinical Breast Examination

Some doctors rely solely on the breast examinations. When patient complains that she found a mass during a self-conducted breast examination or the doctor finds a mass during a routine clinical breast examination, diagnostic testing needs to be ordered in order to determine whether the mass is cancerous. Possible diagnostic tests include a mammogram, biopsy or aspiration. Diagnostic tests are necessary because it is not possible to determine whether a mass is a cyst or is cancerous based solely on a clinical breast examination.

Unfortunately, some doctors rely on their impression from the clinical breast examination and diagnose the mass as a cyst without ordering diagnostic testing. Most of the time a doctor who dos this turns out to be right. The mass is nothing more than a cyst. But sometimes a doctor who does this is wrong. And when that happens, if enough time goes by before the cancer is finally diagnosed, it may spread and reach and advanced state.

Mistake Number 2: Misread Mammogram

The mammogram is essentially a low dose x-ray examination of the patient’s compressed breast. To improve visualization of the breast’s structure, the patient’s breast is compressed during the examination and two x-rays are taken (from different angles) of each breast. The images are examined for abnormal structures or changes that could be cancerous in the breast.

Sometimes doctors simply miss the signs of cancer on the mammogram. This mistake can then be repeated over multiple years when later mammograms are compared to the earlier one, noting no difference between them.

Other times changes in the mammogram due to breast cancer are misread as an unspecified density or a calcification and are dismissed as benign. An abnormal finding on a mammogram, however, should be followed by a diagnostic test, such as a biopsy. Regrettably, abnormal findings are often misdiagnosed as benign without any diagnostic testing.

Delay In Diagnosis Changes Prognosis

Breast cancer grows, progresses, and spreads over time. When detected and treated early, women often have the option for breast conserving surgery rather than a radical mastectomy. With treatment, they also have an over 80 percent chance of surviving the disease at for least 5 years after diagnosis. If the cancer is detected early enough, the 5-year survival rate is over 95 percent.

A delay can lead to the progression of the cancer to where it reaches an advanced stage. By this point, the women’s treatment options are more limited and her chance of surviving the cancer for 5 years or more, even with treatment, will be lower than 55 percent, possibly as low as 20 percent for the most advanced stage. Once treatment becomes ineffective, the disease is fatal.

Misdiagnosis May Give Rise To A Medical Malpractice Claim

A doctor noting an abnormal result on either a clinical breast examination or a mammogram should follow up with diagnostic testing to determine whether the patient has breast cancer. A failure to do so may constitute a departure from the standard of care. If the abnormality was noted when the cancer was in the early stages and the delay leads to the progression of the cancer so that it is not diagnosed until the cancer is at an advanced stage, the woman may have suffered a substantial injury as a result of the doctor’s mistake. The injury may include the loss of the breast, a change in prognosis such as a large drop in the 5-year survival rate, or possibly even a fatality from the cancer.

Contact a Lawyer Today

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There are laws that often affect (1) how much time the patient and/or her family have to bring a claim (by filing a Complaint in court against the doctor or by giving presentment to the appropriate governmental agency), (2) whether the doctor’s misdiagnosis and failure to conduct diagnostic testing fell below the acceptable standard of care, and (2) whether the injury is sufficient for a medical malpractice claim.

If you or a family member were diagnosed with advanced breast cancer after a doctor caused a delay by misdiagnosing breast cancer as a benign cyst or misreading a mammogram, you need to contact a lawyer immediately.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal or medical advice. You should not act, or refrain from acting, based upon any information in this article without seeking professional legal counsel. A competent lawyer with experience in medical malpractice can assist you in determining whether you may have a claim for a delay in the diagnosis of breast cancer due to a failure on the part of the doctor to offer breast cancer screening. There is a time limit in cases like these so do not wait to call.

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