Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis

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Breast cancer has been a deadly cause of millions of deaths globally. It is estimated that there will be 18.1 million new cases and 9.6 million cancer deaths worldwide in 2018. Breast cancer, which is the major cause of morbidity and mortality among women globally, is believed to be the second most common cancer worldwide after lung cancer. In 2018, there are 2,093,876 cases of Lung cancer against 2,088,849 Breast cancer cases.

In the U.S. in 2018, there will be an estimated 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in women. The story is not different in Africa, where cases of deadly sickness have rapidly increased since 2015. It is not only a fact that breast cancer is the second most common cancers, but it is also indeed one of the most often misdiagnosed cancers, with the misdiagnosed figure as high as 90,000 amongst women with breast cancer in the USA. According to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported error rates of misdiagnosis of breast cancer can be as high as 71 percent in certain situations – especially when the patient’s doctor is not a breast cancer specialist. Common sense requires, therefore, that not only a delay in the diagnosis of breast cancer leads to a delay in right treatment, but equally, a poor diagnosis could be very fatal indeed.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors:

There are many breast cancer risk factors, amongst them are the following:

  • You have a family history of breast cancer
  • You are a female (although it is not rare to hear that a male has breast cancer)
  • You are obese or overweight
  • You are at an advanced age (especially, from 55 years old or older)
  • You are using hormone therapy after menopause
  • You have certain genes, like the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes
  • You started your menstruation early or went through menopause late
  • You have non-cancerous conditions of the breast or dense breasts

Although breast cancer is a typical female sickness, it is not strange, however, to hear about men developing breast cancer, although the possibility is incredibly low. Likewise, breast cancer is much less likely to occur in a young female than in an older woman. Sadly, due to these biological realities, many doctors tend to overlook cases of breast cancer or misdiagnose the symptoms simply because of their mindset. More often than none, this leads to unnecessary preventable death.

That said, the first question that might easily come to one’s mind is: How can one detect breast cancer?

Breast Cancer Symptoms:

The most common symptom of breast cancer is the changes in the breast. Although a lump is the most common breast cancer symptom, it can also be a sign of other non-cancerous conditions. Nevertheless, these changes  in the breasts, which are typical breast cancer symptoms include:

  • Pain in the breast or nipple
  • Changes in the nipples, which could come in different forms, such as, bleeding, pain, retraction, discharge
  • Swelling of the breast or the lymph nodes
  • The development of a new lump, bump, or mass.
  • Changes in the breast skin in the form of thickening, irritation, texture or dimpling.

How to avoid breast cancer misdiagnosis:

One of the most challenging tasks facing breast cancer specialists, talk less regular doctors, is interpreting breast biopsy findings. Regardless of how the biopsy is performed, the interpretation itself can be very tricky. To avoid the terrible error of judgment or causing unnecessary medical, mental or physical problems on the part of the patient, it is highly advised and recommended you seek the inputs of other specialists such as surgeons, pathologist, radiologists, to make a better judgement and diagnosis.

Definitely, skepticism surrounds the diagnosis of breast cancer cases, hence it is strongly advised that doctors seek second and even third opinion from other experts and medical institutions. The advice is to seek an independent, neutral third opinion.

In seeking an independent opinion, a cancer specialist or specialist in breast pathology is highly recommended. These precautions help to avoid misdiagnosis –  under- or over-diagnosis a breast problem.

Despite calling for a second or third opinion, specialists still face challenges making their decisions on the best treatment. The first question that must come to one’s mind is whether or not the test results or biopsy samples are sufficient or inadequate to require reanalysis. That would determine whether any additional biopsies would seem necessary or an open surgical biopsy of the mass appropriate.

It is highly important to have knowledge of the biopsy results before deciding on any treatment. This knowledge can help specialists to appropriately plan surgery and chemotherapy sequentially as well as determine whether the chemo comes before the surgery. In most cases, this helps to reduce the extent of surgery and improves long-term results. But before deciding on administering chemotherapy before surgery, a very clear diagnosis from the needle biopsy is a must to avoid mistreatment.

As said earlier, what makes breast cancer diagnosis very challenging is it requires expertise. For example, some breast conditions – often referred to as “borderline” lesions  – can be indistinguishable from cancer simply by needle biopsy alone, because such a condition could exhibit both cancerous and non-cancerous tissues features – even when detected on a needle biopsy.

In conclusion, interpretation of breast biopsy findings can be tricky, therefore consultation of many specialists is highly recommended. To avoid grave misdiagnosis, a second or preferably, a third independent opinion of a dedicated breast expert, will go a long way in saving thousands of lives and avoiding medical blunders and unnecessary agony for the patient and family as well.