Misdiagnosis is a problem that continually plagues the U.S. healthcare system. A medical malpractice lawyer in Illinois often sees patients who are told that they don’t have a disease only to learn later that they have advanced conditions that may cost them their lives. Conversely, many patients may be told that they have serious, life-threatening conditions, only to later learn that they were misdiagnosed and should never have undergone invasive and potentially dangerous treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.
A new report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined one common area of misdiagnosis – breast cancer – and aimed to determine just how often pathologists get it wrong. They found that pathologists routinely fail to properly diagnose patients when given normal or early-stage cancer biopsies to examine.
Further study details and conclusion
The study included 115 U.S. pathologists who examined 240 biopsy specimens with samples on 6,900 slides for evidence of breast cancer. Three experts also examined each biopsy specimen and gave their professional findings, which researchers used as a baseline to which they could compare the pathologists’ findings. The study found that the participating pathologists were only able to correctly diagnose abnormal, precancerous cells in around 50 percent of cases. That is roughly equivalent to a coin toss.
One third of these precancerous cases were deemed not worrisome or normal, while another 17 percent were more correctly marked as cancerous or suspicious and requiring watching or minimal intervention. Pathologists deemed 13 percent of cases were abnormal when in fact they were actually healthy tissue.
When examining DCIS, an early form of breast cancer in which abnormal cells are confined to a milk duct in the breast, pathologists continued to have similar trouble. Thirteen percent of DCIS cases were misdiagnosed and said to be less serious. Another 3 percent were diagnosed as invasive cancer. In these cases especially, a medical malpractice lawyer in Illinois knows that patients may experience severe emotional trauma and undergo dangerous medical procedures unnecessarily.
Actual prevalence of misdiagnosis may be high
While this study is small, and researchers admit that it lacks information on patient outcomes, the results are still troubling and point to a serious deficit in the diagnosing practices of a major disease that kills thousands of women each year. According to Cancer Network, 1.6 million breast biopsies occur annually in the U.S., and 25 percent of these biopsies are diagnosed as having invasive disease. Most, however, lie right along the spectrum where pathologists seem to have the most difficult time accurately diagnosing the specimens.
Researchers concluded that a second opinion is absolutely essential when dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis that is ambiguous to prevent a misdiagnosis. In cases where patients received unnecessary treatment, or were not given time to receive treatment due to a misdiagnosis, patients are encouraged to seek counsel from a medical malpractice lawyer in Illinois.