How Often Do Doctors Misdiagnose Cancer?

Posted on March 18, 2015 by Shapiro Law Group


Every year in the U.S., more than 600,000 patients are misdiagnosed when they seek outpatient care in hospitals. According to a study by BMJ Quality & Safety, 300,000 of those patients are at risk for severe harm, making misdiagnosis a common form of medical malpractice.

Patients who have an illness that can result in death if it is not caught early, such as cancer, face the greatest risk for harm from a misdiagnosis. Data gathered by BMJ Quality & Safety estimated that 28 percent of cancer cases are misdiagnosed. An additional study by John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore found that one in 71 cases of cancer were misdiagnosed. Among the most common types of cancer misdiagnosed were lymphoma, breast cancer and melanoma.

What are the Consequences of Misdiagnosing Cancer?

A cancer misdiagnosis can have severe consequences depending on the situation. In a situation where a patient is told he or she has cancer and then it is later discovered his or her diagnosis is something less serious, potentially harmful treatments can be performed before the error is caught. Cases where a patient is misdiagnosed with a harmless illness that turns out to be cancer are likely to return to his or her doctor during a later stage of illness when treatment options will be more limited or perhaps too late all together.

The latter example happened to a blogger from the New York Times. According to her story, she went to a doctor for indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome only to be sent home with a daily regimen of wheat bran and prune juice. One year later when the symptoms did not abide, a CT scan revealed she had advanced ovarian cancer.

Hospitals and other healthcare practitioners that misdiagnose serious illnesses could be sued for medical malpractice depending on the circumstances and outcome of the situation.

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Did You Know? The average price for a year’s supply of cancer fighting drugs is over $100,000, making a misdiagnosis of cancer extremely expensive.


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