There are two mistakes commonly made by doctors that can delay the diagnosis of a woman’s breast cancer:
(1) failing to order a test to rule out cancer when a lump is felt in the breast and (2) misreading a mammogram.
If a doctor makes either of these mistakes and causes a delay in the diagnosis of cancer until it reaches an advanced stage, the patient may have a claim for medical malpractice.
Failing to order diagnostic testing
Doctors all too often assure women that the lump in their breast is nothing more than a benign cyst. Perhaps these doctors are simply playing the odds. After all, most abnormal findings from breast examinations are due to something other than cancer. The odds are even stronger in young women with no family history of breast cancer. Statistically, women with no family history of breast cancer are at a lower risk than those with a family history. Further, the majority of new cases of breast cancer occur in women over 50 years old. Some women have reported being told by their doctor that they are too young to have cancer. Unfortunately, some of the women whose breast examination reveal a lump, even young women, and women with no family history of breast cancer, turn out to have breast cancer.
Perhaps these doctors believe they can tell whether a mass in the breast is cancerous by conducting a clinical breast examination. Unfortunately, it is simply not possible to determine, based on a clinical breast examination, whether a lump in the breast is benign or cancerous. Thus, most cancer specialists conclude that when a woman reports feeling a lump in her breast or a mass is detected during a clinical breast examination, it is necessary to conduct diagnostic testing to determine whether the mass is cancerous. Examples of diagnostic tests include an aspiration, a biopsy, and a mammogram. For that patient who does have breast cancer, the failure to order diagnostic testing can result in the growth and spread of cancer, at which point a medical negligence solicitor should be enlisted.
Mammograms are used to detect structures and changes in the breast that may be cancerous. The mammogram creates images of the inside of the breast by using low dose x-rays of the patient’s compressed breast. The resulting images are then analysed by doctors for the presence of any structures or changes that might be cancerous.
An abnormal finding is generally followed by diagnostic testing, such as a biopsy to determine whether it is cancerous. Unfortunately, doctors sometimes miss what is literally in front of their eyes. They sometimes fail to detect an abnormal structure or change from a prior mammogram. Other times, doctors incorrectly diagnose a structure or change from a prior mammogram as benign without ordering any diagnostic testing to rule out cancer. The mistake may result in a medical malpractice claim through the support of a medical negligence solicitor.
Either of the common mistakes described above can cause a delay in the diagnosis of the patient’s breast cancer. The longer the detection of cancer is delayed, the more likely it is that cancer will spread and reach an advanced stage. When cancer spreads, the treatment options available to the woman are more limited. In addition, the chance she has of surviving cancer for 5 years or more, even with treatment, decreases significantly. At Stage III, it is approximately 55% and by Stage IV, it can be as low as 20%. If the cancer is detected early, however, the 5-year survival rate is over 80%, possibly as high as over 95% if it is detected early enough.