Misdiagnosing Breast Cancer As Fibroid Changes May Constitute Medical Malpractice
Cancer is a word that strikes fear in most people. It is no surprise that a woman can find it very reassuring when she hears her doctor tell her that she just has fibrocystic breast changes and that there is no need to worry about the lump in her breast. But this reassurance should only come after the doctor has ordered appropriate diagnostic tests to rule out the possibility of breast cancer. Otherwise, the patient may not discover she has breast cancer until it is too late. If a doctor concludes that a lump in a female patient’s breast is just a fibrocystic breast changes and it later turns out to be breast cancer, the patient may have a legal claim for medical malpractice against that doctor.
Perhaps some 80 percent of breast related issues are not the result of breast cancer. Further, the majority of new breast cancer cases occur in women over 50 years of age. It is thus not surprising that some doctors will diagnose an abnormal finding from a clinical breast examination, especially with a younger patient, as due to fibrocystic breast changes and not due to breast cancer. The statistics are in favor of such a diagnosis.
Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story. If cancer of the breast is detected while in its less advanced stages (stage 0, stage I or stage II), the 5-year survival rate is generally over 80 percent. The 5-year survival rate is a statistical measure used by cancer specialists to identify the percentage of patients who survive the disease for at least five years after diagnosis. Thus, a 5-year survival rate above 80 percent means that, statistically, more than 80 out of every 100 patients diagnosed with a less advanced stage will, with appropriate treatment, survive the disease for at least 5 years after diagnosis.
If the breast cancer is not detected until it has reached stage III (generally involves larger tumors in the breast or a greater spread of the cancer to lymph nodes), the 5-year survival rate drops to approximately 54%. For stage IV (generally involves a tumor that is larger that 5 cm or the spread of the cancer to distant organs), the 5-year survival rate is approximately 20%.
Approximately 12 percent of women will experience breast cancer in their life time. This year alone, approximately 185,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Tragically, more than 49,000 women will die as a result of breast cancer. How many of these women would survive their cancer if their doctors had investigated complaints of a lump in the breast or an abnormal finding on a clinical breast exam and had found the breast cancer earlier, before it spread or metastasized?
A clinical breast examination simply cannot accurately differentiate between a fibrocystic breast changes and a cancerous growth. This is why a doctor should generally recommend that diagnostic testing be immediately performed ordered if a lump is detected in the breast of a female patient. Examples of diagnostic tests can include an imaging study such as a mammogram or an ultrasound, or a sampling, such as by biopsy or aspiration. Each has the potential for a false negative and it may be necessary to perform more than one test before cancer of the breast can be ruled out.
When a doctor diagnoses a lump in the breast of a female patient as nothing more than a fibrocystic change based only on a clinical breast examination, that doctor puts the patient at risk of not knowing she has cancer until it progresses to an advanced, possibly untreatable, stage. The failure to conduct appropriate diagnostic testing, including an imaging study such as a mammogram or ultrasound, or a sampling, such as a biopsy or aspiration, may constitute a departure from the accepted standard of medical care and may result in a medical malpractice claim.