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Failure to diagnose cancer is a common medical error

Failure to diagnose cancer places the lives of patients at grave risk. Often, a person attributes early cancer symptoms to other diseases. However, the failure to diagnose cancer is not only a problem for many patients in Queens, New York, it is also a problem for their doctors.

For example, in 1987, a woman consulted a doctor about her back pain. The physician failed to detect a sarcoma on her x-ray scan, resulting in her cancer being diagnosed eight months later. Although the woman underwent extensive treatment, she died at the age of 49, two years later.

In another case, a doctor removed a woman's ovarian cyst but during the operation, the physician spotted a problem on her other ovary. Without the result of a pathology test, the doctor cut into the ovary, not realizing that he was releasing cancer cells into the patient's body, which increased the chances of the cancer redeveloping. Fortunately, another doctor successfully performed another operation to save the patient.

Cancer misdiagnosis often occurs in young adults because many doctors assume that cancer is a disease found in older people. Delayed diagnosis means that the cancer can further develop and is only detected once it has reached its later stages.

There are other reasons why failing to diagnose cancer occurs. Inexperience, complacency, poor diagnostic tools and limited time with patients can increase the chances of misdiagnosis. But regardless of what could have caused the misdiagnosis, such medical mistakes can be avoided.

New Yorkers use their hard-earned money in order to purchase quality medical care. If a doctor's diagnosis is erroneous, it can translate to higher medical expenses and a longer hospital stay. Should a medical error cause undue hardship to a patient, the patient may choose to file a lawsuit against the hospital or the medical staff.

Source: The New York Times, "Missing a Cancer Diagnosis," Susan Gubar, Jan. 2, 2013

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