Misdiagnosis/Failure to Diagnose Cancer
Cancer is a devastating disease that kills thousands of Americans each year. The American Cancer Society has estimated that 1.6 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States. Although there is no known cure, it has been medically proven that early detection and early treatment increases the promise of extending life or even living a normal life without reoccurrence of the disease. Regular medical check-ups are very important. At least yearly visits to a doctor are credited with saving lives by early cancer detection.
While early detection isn't always possible, there are cases where a patient's overwhelming symptoms lead to a timely diagnosis of cancer. For example, Kreisman Law Offices recently handled a case in which an Illinois woman presented again and again to her local Chicago area family practice doctor with a chronic cough. Instead of obtaining a chest x-ray or CAT scan of her chest to determine if there was an underlying dangerous cause of her cough, the internal medicine doctor continued to diagnose her with allergies. By the time her lung cancer was diagnosed correctly it had progressed too far, Stage III, for anything medically to be done.
This Illinois woman's life may have been saved if her Chicago doctor had early on ordered a simple chest x-ray to rule out the most deadly of the causes of her persistent cough. When a patient presents with a chronic cough, shortness of breath, and tiredness or fatigue, these could all be warning signs of lung cancer. And while the reports of these conditions could turn out to be only a mild illness, your treating physician should rule out the worst-case scenario or most deadly disease first. This is called the differential diagnosis that doctors are taught in medical school.
Cancer can also be misdiagnosed or wrongly diagnosed through incorrect readings of laboratory results. New studies have shown that human error plays a large part in highly sensitive test results, such as a breast tissue biopsy. If a lab technician fails to mistakenly read your test results you could end up receiving incorrect treatment or even be given a false result of a benign tumor. When dealing with cancer, any error can drastically affect your treatment and chance of survival.
It's important to recognize the early symptoms of cancer. If a cancer has already spread, or metastasized, the symptoms may appear in many areas of the human body. As a cancer mutates, it can begin to push on nearby organs, blood vessels and nerves, causing apparent symptoms of cancer. In that case, it is essential that a patient consult a doctor immediately.
Sometimes cancer starts in places where it goes undetected for a period of time; it does not cause symptoms until it has spread or a tumor has advanced. Cancers of the pancreas fall into this category. The pancreas is known as a “deep” organ because it lies behind the stomach and under first part of the small intestine. By the time a pancreatic cancer causes symptoms such as back or belly pain, the cancer is usually in an advanced stage.
Other cancers may cause symptoms like fever, extreme tiredness, dizziness or weight loss. The weight loss may be caused by cancer cells that are using up a lot of the body’s energy. Some cancers release substances that change the way the body makes energy from food. Other cancers cause the human immune system to react in ways that produce tiredness and weight loss.
In every case, cancer treatment works best when the disease is found early; this is before it has spread out to other parts of the body. If a cancer is detected early, a cure is much more likely, especially if surgery is successful in removing the entire cancer from the body.
Symptoms of cancer:
Pain. A feeling of pain or soreness may be an early symptom of bone cancers or testicular cancer. Back pain can be a symptom of cancer of the colon, rectum or ovary. When pain occurs and cancer is diagnosed, it often means that the cancer has already spread from its point of origin in the body.
Lumps or thickening. Many cancers can be felt when there appears to be a lump underneath the skin. These cancers are detected most commonly in the breast, testicle, lymph nodes, or other soft tissues. Some breast cancers show up as red or thickened skin rather than a lump.
Fatigue . When a patient experiences extreme tiredness, even after resting, this is an important symptom. It may occur early in some cancers, including leukemia. Some colon and stomach cancers can cause blood loss, which causes fatigue. Any patient who suffers from an ongoing feeling of tiredness – just feeling run down --should see a doctor as soon as possible.
Unexplained weight loss. When a patient loses weight for no readily obvious reason, it is known as unexplained weight loss. An unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more may be the initial sign of cancer. This happens most often with cancers of the lungs, stomach, pancreas or esophagus.
Fever . Fever often occurs after a cancer has spread from where it originated in the body. Fever may also be an early sign of cancer, such as blood cancers like leukemia or lymphoma.
Nagging cough or hoarseness. A lasting, persistent cough could be a sign of lung cancer. Hoarseness can be a sign of cancer of the voice box or thyroid gland.
Skin changes . Some cancers can cause visibly detectable skin changes, including darker looking skin, unexplained hair growth, itching, yellowish skin and eyes or reddened skin. Another sign of cancer is when a wart, mole, or freckle changes color, size, or shape.
Changes in bowel or bladder function. Long-term diarrhea, constipation, or a change in stool size may be a sign of colon cancer. Symptoms of bladder or prostate cancer are pain when passing urine, blood in the urine, or the need to pass urine more or less often than usual.
Sores that don’t heal . Skin cancers may bleed and look like sores. A sore in the mouth that does not heal could be oral cancer. If a patient smokes, chews tobacco, or often drinks alcohol, sores in the mouth can be very serious. White patches inside the mouth and white spots on the tongue may be leukoplakia, which is a pre-cancerous area that’s caused by frequent irritation. It’s often caused by smoking or other tobacco use. People who smoke pipes or use mouth tobacco are at high risk for leukoplakia, which can turn mouth cancer if left untreated.
Unusual bleeding . Coughing up blood may be a sign of lung cancer. If blood is seen in the stool, this can be a sign of colon or rectal cancer. Abnormal vaginal bleeding can be a sign of cervical cancer. Blood in the urine may be a sign of bladder or kidney cancer. Breast cancer is often diagnosed when there is a bloody discharge from the nipple.
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