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How Serious is a Cancer Misdiagnosis? An Attorney Discusses

Chicago medical malpractice attorneyIt's devastating to hear the words "you have cancer" from a doctor. But it's important for the doctor to give a patient the difficult news and promptly begin a course of action. Cancer must be treated quickly to stop the aggressive cells from spreading.

Unfortunately, doctors sometimes misdiagnose cancer. Lung cancer can mimic other conditions such as bronchitis or pneumonia. It's a situation the medical malpractice attorneys at The Deratany Firm, LLC have seen many times.

In an article in Op-Med, a doctor wrote about the misdiagnosis that he experienced. He was told he had lung cancer. He received treatment, which cost him thousands of dollars out of pocket, and believed he only had a few years at best to live. His loved ones were distraught. However, he later found out he received a cancer misdiagnosis. He actually had a treatable infection in his lung.

Is cancer misdiagnosis common?

The doctor is not alone. About 3,000 people a year receive a cancer misdiagnosis, according to In many cases, doctors fail to diagnose that a patient has an aggressive cancer. When the diagnosis is wrong, the patient may lose valuable time. It's ideal for doctors to discover cancer at an early stage. The patient's survival rate is much better than the rate for someone who receives a late diagnosis.

Someone with lung cancer can have symptoms that are similar to a person with pneumonia. Overlapping symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Phlegm
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Wheezing

A doctor who suspects pneumonia may check the patient for swollen glands, abnormal breathing or fever. An X-ray or blood test may be administered.

What types of tests are needed to confirm a cancer diagnosis?

Determining if the patient has lung cancer is typically a difficult process. A chest X-ray may reveal a spot that could be cancer, but the doctor will need to order a computerized tomography (CT) scan to confirm the diagnosis.

If the CT scan confirms cancer, some of the additional tests include:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, which provide images of soft tissues
  • Positron emission tomography-computerized tomography (PET-CT) scan
  • Bone scan
  • Biopsy (using a microscope to examine a small tissue sample taken from the lungs)

How to avoid a misdiagnosis

Unfortunately, medical professionals make errors. They may misread the results of scans or biopsies. To avoid a misdiagnosis, you should keep track of your symptoms. Record the date, time and severity of the symptom. Don't ignore symptoms that may arise after seeing the doctor. Communicate with your doctor. Give the physician every detail you can.

Don't be afraid to get a second opinion. Trust your gut if you don't feel comfortable with the doctor.

If you receive a cancer misdiagnosis, don't hesitate to talk to an experienced attorney. The medical malpractice attorneys at The Deratany Firm have seen the devastating impact of a diagnosis on individuals and their families.

Contact us today to learn how we can help.

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