Falsely Diagnosed With Cancer – Can I Sue?
If you underwent unnecessary cancer treatments, you could have a multimillion-dollar case.
Most cancer misdiagnosis lawsuits involve the failure to diagnose cancer. The patient has cancer, but the doctor misses the signs or attributes them to some other condition.
But a shocking number of Americans have the opposite experience – and it causes them a great deal of suffering.
Falsely Diagnosed With Cancer – How It Occurred
In general, misdiagnoses are alarmingly common. According to Healthline, in the United States alone, some 12 million people are affected by misdiagnosis every annually. Sadly, it is estimated that between 40,000 and 80,000 people die every year from complications associated with their misdiagnoses.
Cancer is also very common. The disease affects one in two men and one in three women. It’s no surprise, then, that cancer is among the most misdiagnosed types of conditions. Research shows that certain kinds of cancer are misdiagnosed at rates as high as 61 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.
Why Do False Positives Happen When Screening for Cancer?
When you are wrongly diagnosed with cancer, it’s because some diagnostic test produced a false positive result. This is a result that showed you had cancer, when in fact, you did not.
False positives can happen due to the limitations of screening tests as well as human error on the part of healthcare professionals.
Factors that lead to false cancer diagnoses include:
Overly sensitive screening technology
You would think that more sophisticated screening tests would reduce the number of false positives, not raise it. But that’s not the case.
Mammograms, diagnostic X-rays that can detect breast cancer, miss 16 percent of breast cancers, according to the Susan G. Komen By some estimates, that rate is closer to 30 percent.
However, these same tests overdiagnose breast cancer in patients whose tumors that never would have threatened the patient’s life. Overdiagnosis accounts for as many as 31 percent of all breast cancers, the New England Journal of Medicine reported.
That means 70,000 women per year get a false breast cancer diagnosis. By some estimates, more than twice that many women are misdiagnosed with breast cancer they don’t actually have.
The reason tests like mammograms overdiagnose cancer is because today’s equipment is so sensitive. Unlike the mammograms of the past, today’s mammograms can pick up on tiny lesions that previously weren’t considered a problem. Some of these lesions are no bigger than “the size of a few grains of salt,” The New York Times reported. It’s difficult for the healthcare workers who interpret your scans to give a reliable opinion on a lesion that small.
What happens when you undergo a diagnostic test to screen for cancer? Your results go to a specialist who interprets those findings. Radiologists, for example, read X-ray scans such as mammograms. Pathologists interpret the tissue samples collected through biopsies.
Studies have shown that when these specialists further specialize in looking for a specific type of cancer, their findings are more accurate. Without knowing the complexities of diagnosing cancer of the breast, lung, or pancreas, for example, a general pathologist may mistake a non-cancerous condition for cancer.
In the case of breast cancer biopsies, pathologists only correctly identify abnormal pre-cancer cells about 50 percent of the time, Today reported. Close to one-third of pre-cancer cells are misdiagnosed as normal. Around 17 percent of these cells are misdiagnosed as full-fledged cancer. When this happens, the patients end up undergoing more extensive treatments than they really need. Chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery are effective ways of fighting cancer. But they also cause severe damage to healthy cells. The risks certainly don’t outweigh the benefits when you don’t have cancer to shrink or remove.
Research into cancer misdiagnosis has found “many mistakes,” ABC News reported. Many pathologists aren’t experts in one particular type of cancer – but the patients whose samples they are evaluating, the ones whose treatment plans depend on the pathologist’s findings, don’t know that.
Currently, there’s no sure way to remove this prospect of human error from the equation. “We really still make the diagnosis pretty much the way we did for the last 50 years,” an MD Anderson Cancer Center doctor told ABC News. Even though the screening technology has become more advanced, the methods of interpreting the results have not.
Intentional Misdiagnoses of Cancer
Though rare, there have been some shocking cases of doctors who intentionally diagnosed patients with cancer they didn’t have. When this does occur, the motive for the cruel deception is usually financial. The doctor received more money from the patients’ health insurance companies if they were supposedly treating cancer.
These rare situations often turn into insurance fraud claims. The doctor is usually lying about treating the patient. However, there have been instances in which an intentional misdiagnosis of cancer led to a medical malpractice case. Some physicians have allegedly gone so far as to give chemotherapy and radiation treatment to patients who they knew didn’t have cancer.
Sometimes patients who are falsely diagnosed with cancer find out the truth before it’s too late. They get a second opinion – and that opinion reveals that their cancer diagnosis was inaccurate. Fortunately, they got the correct diagnosis before they began undergoing treatments like chemotherapy and radiation – and before they underwent an invasive surgery.
Other patients aren’t as fortunate. Their doctor says they need to start treatment right away. They trust their doctor. So instead of spending precious time waiting to get a second opinion, they rush into getting treatment. Not until after they’ve already been through cancer treatments that wreak havoc on their healthy cells do these patients find out that they never had cancer to begin with.
The Harm Caused by an Inaccurate Cancer Diagnosis
When you’ve already started to undergo cancer treatment, you aren’t “lucky” to find out that you weren’t sick to begin with. You might not still be facing a cancer battle, but you have been through a terrible ordeal for nothing.
Side Effects of Cancer Treatment
There are dozens of possible side effects that cancer treatments can cause, as the National Cancer Institute reported. Some of the adverse effects that unnecessary cancer treatment might leave you with include:
Nausea and vomiting
Constipation or diarrhea
Urinary and bladder problems
Bleeding and bruising
Trouble with memory or concentration
Mouth and throat problems
Changes in sexual function and fertility
Lymphedema, fluid buildup in the lymph nodes, or edema, fluid buildup in the body tissues
Skin and nail changes
While some of these effects may resolve on their own once you stop this treatment, others may be long-term changes.
Long-Term Complications from Cancer Treatment
The goal of a treatment like chemotherapy or radiation is to kill the cancerous cells – but these treatment methods put healthy cells at risk, too.
Exposure to chemotherapy and radiation can raise the risk of developing a second cancer. In patients whose lives are in danger, of course that risk is worth it. But when you were healthy to begin with, the treatments have only put you at a greater risk of really getting cancer in the future.
Many cancers require surgery to remove a tumor. In some cases, that surgery is life-changing. Removing a part of the breast, in a condition called a mastectomy, can leave you disfigured. A prostate surgery could cause you to lose bladder control and develop urinary incontinence – perhaps permanently.
Going through cancer treatment has irreversible effects on your body. Coping with those effects is even more frustrating when you know that you didn’t need the treatment in the first place.
Your Legal Rights When You’ve Been Falsely Diagnosed With Cancer
Don’t let a doctor convince you that what you’ve been through isn’t a big deal. It is.
You suffered gravely because of the physician’s mistake. You deserve answers, justice, and compensation for the pain you have been through.
After a false cancer diagnosis, you have the right to pursue a medical malpractice claim.