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Many Doctors Misdiagnose and Mistreat Breast Cancer

The New York Times recently profiled a Michigan woman who endured a partial breast removal, weeks of radiation treatment, continuous drug therapy, and the intense psychological strain of a cancer diagnosis only to discover that she never actually had cancer at all.

Monica Long was a middle-aged registered nurse when a pathologist in her a nearby hospital, Dr. Linh Vi, diagnosed her with ductal carcinoma in situ (D.C.I.S.). Like millions of others, Ms. Long received the diagnosis by the pathologist in her community hospital after irregularities discovered in her yearly mammogram. Dr. Linh ran the pathology department at that community hospital and made the diagnosis even though he was not board certified in pathology at the time.

Following a move to Illinois (and after the surgery and years of treatment), Ms. Long continued her cancer treatment with a new physician. However, the new medical care providers soon discovered something unique about Ms. Long situation. After reviewing the pathology report, the new doctors discovered no evidence of D.C.I.S. at all. Ms. Long never had the cancer in the first place. The breast removal, other treatments, and intense fear that go along with a cancer diagnosis had all been unnecessary.

Unfortunately, Ms. Long’s ordeal is far from a rare occurrence. Since the use of regular mammograms in the 1980s, the number of D.C.I.S. diagnoses in American woman has skyrocketed over 800%. However, a new study by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization discovered that the diagnoses are fraught with error. The study estimates that nearly 90,000 woman have received an erroneous breast cancer diagnosis or treatment plan. Similarly, a pathologist who reviews slides for women who seek second opinions in breast cancer diagnoses has discovered that cases like D.C.I.S. may be misdiagnosed up to 20% of the time.

For many women the error of misdiagnosis of breast cancer is compounded by treatment options that are often much more aggressive than necessary. For example, even though D.C.I.S. is curable in 90% of cases, a full mastectomy (breast removal) is sometimes offered as an option. Among D.C.I.S. patients, the mastectomy rate has nearly tripled since 1998.

Overall, the current situation is one where many women undergo unnecessary and painful procedures due to false diagnosis of breast cancer. The error is then made worse by a tendency to commit to the most aggressive and irreversible treatment options, even though not necessary. These mistakes are harming thousands of women each year, many of whom never fully realize the extent of their doctors’ mistakes. Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers at Levin & Perconti encourage all women to remain vigilant to any concerns about misdiagnosis or improper treatment. As Ms. Long’s case demonstrates, even someone trained in the field as a registered nurse is unable to fully understand the risk and error the pervades many medical practices when unprepared medical professionals engage in too much speculation. Please contact our professionals if you even suspect that you may have been one of the thousands who have fallen victim to this vicious trap of medical mistake.

Click Here to read the full article and learn more about the current problem of medical error in breast cancer diagnosis.