Failure to Diagnose Breast Cancer

When a doctor fails to diagnose a disease like breast cancer, the results can be devastating for the patient, ranging from delayed treatment to death. If you are the victim of a negligent failure to diagnose breast cancer, you may have grounds to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

How Common Is Breast Cancer?

According to the US Breast Cancer Institute, roughly one out of every 8 women in the US—or 13%—will develop invasive breast cancer, and approximately 43,600 women in the US are expected to lose their lives to breast cancer in 2021. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in women and the most common cancer around the world. The US Breast Cancer Institute notes that for women under 45 years of age, the disease is more commonly diagnosed in Black women than in white women, and that Black women have a higher likelihood of losing their lives to the disease. The risk of developing and dying from the disease is lower, according to the Institute, among Asian, Hispanic, and Native American women. While approximately 85% of breast cancer cases are found in women "with no family history" of the disease, roughly 5% to 10% are connected to inherited gene mutations such as in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Per the Institute, "women with a BRCA1 mutation have up to a 72% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer," while women with the BRCA2 mutation have a risk of 69%.

How Common Is Failure to Diagnose Breast Cancer?

A study of 6,000 cancer cases by Johns Hopkins found that one out of 71 was misdiagnosed, and "up to one out of five cancers were misclassified, errors which can result in delayed or inappropriate treatment." A study published by the Institute of Medicine found that roughly "12 million people who seek outpatient medical care experience some form of diagnostic error." When it comes to breast cancer specifically, the Susan G. Komen Foundation suggests that roughly 13% of breast cancers are missed by mammograms, while a 2012 study in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that 31% of breast cancer cases were "overdiagnosed" in the year accounted for of the study—that is, screenings detected tumors "that never would have led to clinical symptoms.” While the failure to diagnose breast cancer may be relatively rare, the consequences when it happens can be very serious. When breast cancer is detected in its earliest stage, its survival rate is 99%. Late-stage breast cancer has a five-year relative survival rate of 28%.

What Causes Failure to Diagnose Breast Cancer?

Delayed diagnosis of breast cancer occurs for two primary reasons. One is patient delay, in which the patient puts off getting medical attention after observing possible symptoms of breast cancer. The second type is system delay, in which the delay occurs within the health care system: difficulties scheduling appointments, for instance, or obtaining screenings. When it comes to system delay, the failure to diagnose breast cancer can often be traced back to screening or diagnostic tests. In some cases, a doctor reading a mammogram, ultrasound, or MRA imaging may overlook or misinterpret evidence of breast cancer; in others, a doctor may fail to order the tests entirely. This puts the patient at risk for a failed or delayed diagnosis, which in turn would result in delayed breast cancer treatment.

What Can I Do If I’m a Victim of Failure to Diagnose Breast Cancer?

Early detection is highly correlated with breast cancer survival rates: when the disease is detected in its first stage, the five-year survival rate is 99%. These odds severely diminish when the disease is detected later, meaning the failure to diagnose breast cancer can have fatal consequences. Not all misdiagnoses or delayed diagnoses are negligence, but some are. If your doctor failed to conduct reasonable screening and diagnostic measures—for instance, by neglecting to perform mammography or by misreading the results of a test—you may be entitled to recover damages. The experienced medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, with the support of seasoned medical experts, can help you evaluate your claim and hold the responsible parties accountable. Please reach out to our lawyers today to schedule a free consultation.

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