Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis
Breast cancer misdiagnosis occurs when a doctor or health care provider does not detect, order necessary testing to follow up on breast cancer or, as is often the case in breast cancer malpractice cases, the radiologist misreads a mammogram. Our Maryland breast cancer misdiagnosis lawyers represent victims and their families seeking compensation for misdiagnosis or medical mistake.
Breast cancer is often curable. There are approximately 3 million living breast cancer survivors that can attest to this. But the consequences of breast cancer misdiagnosis can be serious and often fatal because early detection is often a breast cancer patient's best hope of defeating the disease. Detection of cancer at its later stages increases the risk of death significantly for many types of cancer. The difference between Stage I and Stage IV drops survival rates by over 80%, according to some studies. Again, breast cancer survival rates are strongly correlated with early detection and treatment.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women today (after lung cancer), but early detection can almost always stop the cancer in its tracks. When breast cancer is detected early and confined to the breast, the five-year survival rate approaches 100%. In 2011 (the most recent statistics we have), breast cancer deaths in women totaled 39,520 out of the 230,480 women diagnosed. Ten percent of American women will contract breast cancer in the United States. Some of these breast cancer deaths could have been avoided if a doctor had properly diagnosed the patient.
Most Common Viable Malpractice Claims
Breast cancer misdiagnosis is the most common cancer misdiagnosis that leads to malpractice lawsuits, though Juries have found malpractice in a wide range of misdiagnosis cases. The most common are the doctor's failure to:
- perform or analyze a mammogram
- inform a patient of mammogram results
- perform or analyze an ultrasound
- perform or analyze a biopsy
- inform the patient of the results of a biopsy
- failure to evaluate a breast lump correctly
- communicate with patients' other doctors to make sure treatment needs are met
Why Is Breast Cancer Missed So Often?
How does breast cancer get misdiagnosed? It often starts with a radiologist misreading a mammogram. A mammogram is the first line of defense in screening for breast cancer. Incredibly, a mammogram has a false-negative - that is, the failure to detect a malignant cancer - rate of at least 10%. Why is this? The mammogram-reading skills of general radiologists vary enormously, according to a study. In the study, 75% of radiologists detected, on average, 70% of the breast cancers that were visible on 100 mammograms. Most doctors are doing their job very well.
But here is the incredible part: scores ranged from a high of 98% to a low of 8%. In other words, a smaller number of radiologists do not appear to be particularly skilled at diagnosing breast cancer. Reading mammograms is not easy because the patients are healthy - there are rarely symptoms because healthy women get mammograms as screenings. Most mammograms are given to healthy women who do not have cancer. But if you are not good at looking at a mammogram, give the results to a radiologist that can.
But it is not just radiologists that make errors in these cases. Delay in or failure to diagnose is the second most frequent malpractice claim against obstetrician/gynecologists. The most common claims are the failure to:
- perform a proper physical exam,
- find the tumor of concern during an exam
- recommend a referral
- follow-up to make sure the patient gets the recommended care
Breast Cancer Malpractice Verdicts
- December 2013, New York: $2,225,000 Verdict: A pathologist had recently diagnosed a 45 year-old mother of three with invasive ductal carcinoma. From the diagnoses she was required to undergo a bilateral mastectomy with bilateral reconstruction and lymph node resection. But, shortly thereafter, it was discovered that she actually suffered from ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which is not invasive and could have been treated with a lumpectomy and possible radiation therapy. The woman sued the pathologist for medical malpractice, claiming that the two year process and multiple procedures to cure what wasn’t there caused her a great deal of physical, emotional, and economical strife. Defendant maintained that the diagnosis did not reflect negligence as the Plaintiff had a significant family history of breast cancer. The matter continued to a Queens Circuit Court where the jury found the Defendant negligent in his misdiagnosis. They awarded the Plaintiff $2,225,000.
- November 2013, Massachusetts: $1,350,000 Settlement: A woman visited her primary care physician for her annual physical examination. During the exam, the physician observed two masses in the woman’s left breast and recommend a mammogram and an ultrasound. Neither tests showed a definite mass or suspicious findings. From the results, the physician chose to not refer the woman to a breast surgeon for a precautionary follow up and simply told the woman to continue doing breast examinations at home and return should she notice any changes. The woman returned less than a year later complaining that one of the masses had increased in size. She was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma. She underwent a left mastectomy and pathology reports showed that 12 of her 16 lymph nodes had been affected. She was ultimately diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. The woman sued her primary care physician for medical malpractice for neglecting to refer her to a breast surgeon upon the initial mass discovery. She claimed that due to the delay in diagnosis, she now has a diminished life expectancy and can no longer enjoy her day to day activities knowing that she is going to die from breast cancer. The defendant denied negligence and expressed that the plaintiff did not suffer any damages from the delay in diagnosis. The parties agreed to settle the matter before trial in the amount of $1,350,000.
- March 2007, Maryland: $7,000,000 Verdict: A 52 year-old woman visited Advanced Radiology for her yearly mammogram. The radiologist found no abnormalities. She did not return until her next yearly appointment. She was then diagnosed with Stage 3B breast cancer in the left breast. She had to undergo chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and ultimately required a total mastectomy of her left breast. She sued both Advanced Radiology and the performing radiologist from her initial visit for medical malpractice. Plaintiff alleged the Defendant radiologist failed to diagnose her cancer, which at the time would have been diagnosed as Stage 2B, which is treatable, unlike Stage 3B which is likely to return. Defendant radiologist argued that the cancer had not significantly changed during the time between the two mammograms. Plaintiff also alleged that the Defendant should have noted the abnormality in her left breast and ordered more tests such as an ultrasound. Defendants contended that the Plaintiff was responsible for the delay in diagnosis for not reporting the abnormality. The arguments continued to trial in the Baltimore City Circuit Court where a jury found in favor of the Plaintiff in the amount of $7,000,000.
We provide these sample verdicts and settlements in these cases because people have a right to see how these claims are being valued. But you have to keep in mind that these verdicts do not predict the results in any case. Why? Because there are just too many factors at play in valuing cases.
Hiring a Malpractice Lawyer
If you believe you may have a breast cancer medical malpractice case, call our lawyers at 1-800-553-8082 or click here for a free online consultation.