How Do Cancer Misdiagnoses Happen?

Updated on January 10, 2023

A cancer diagnosis is one of the few things in life that can instill a great deal of fear. Being diagnosed with cancer is something that nobody wants to happen to them. However, cancer is the second most common cause of death in the US alone, so it’s no surprise that getting a diagnosis causes so much anxiety and fear. And, finding out that there was some kind of error in the diagnosis can cause even more stress, fear and anxiety for patients and their families. 

Types of Cancer Misdiagnosis

A cancer misdiagnosis can happen in a number of ways. The first one is when somebody is diagnosed with cancer, and then later find out that they don’t have it. However, this is the most uncommon type of diagnosis. The most common way that cancer is misdiagnosed is when there is a delay in diagnosing the condition. In this situation, the person diagnosed with cancer may have reason to believe that it should have been diagnosed earlier. Since cancer is progressive, the earlier it is diagnosed and treated, the better the patient’s chance of recovering from the disease. This delay could be considered to be malpractice in some situations, and patients may enlist the support of a cancer misdiagnosis attorney such as those at

Evaluating Scan Mistakes

A common reason for a cancer misdiagnosis is when a physician or other healthcare professional misses a tumor or other mass when reading the results of a radiology test such as a CT scan, MRI, or X-ray. There may be a significant delay in noticing and diagnosing the cancer if the evaluation is not done properly.

Not Taking Symptoms Seriously

Healthcare professionals who do not take symptoms seriously when patients present with them may be at risk of misdiagnosing cancer. One example is if a patient presents to the doctor with chronic headaches, but the doctor diagnoses it as stress-related, only to discover that the patient has a tumor on their brain months later when the symptoms have not subsided. 

Tests Done Improperly

In some cases, tests that are not conducted correctly could impact the results and cause cancer to be missed by healthcare professionals. For example, if patients are not properly prepared before certain screening tests, this could impact the results and render them inaccurate. 

Failure to Get a Biopsy

In some cases, healthcare professionals who do not order a biopsy in situations where one should be done might lead to a cancer misdiagnosis. For example, if a patient presents with a mole, but it is not biopsied, only to find out later on that it was a melanoma, it could lead to a misdiagnosis. Any growths and irregular masses that patients present with should be biopsied and tested for cancer, even if cancer seems unlikely. 

Cancer misdiagnosis is thankfully not very common, since there are extensive screening and testing options. All healthcare professionals should be vigilant to situations where cancer misdiagnosis can happen, and take appropriate steps to ensure that they minimize the risk. 

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