Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis

Breast cancer misdiagnosis occurs when a doctor does not detect, fails to order necessary testing to follow up on a suspicious mass or test.  The most common breast cancer medical malpractice claim is or when the radiologist misreads a mammogram. 

Our Maryland breast cancer misdiagnosis lawyers represent victims and their families seeking compensation for misdiagnosis or medical mistake

Call our lawyers at 1-800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation to talk about your potential claim. 

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 severe 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 cancer in its tracks. When breast cancer is detected early and confined to the breast, the five-year survival rate approaches 100%. 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 correctly diagnosed the patient.

Most Common Viable Malpractice Claims There is a lot of confusion about breast cancer that continues unabated to this day, even by experts. Even the experts disagree, recently pushing back the recommended age for mammograms to age 45. 

But there are some things we can all agree on and one of those is early detection.  Primary care doctors, radiologists and any doctor looking at a potential breast cancer patients has to do what is required to diagnose the disease quickly because quick is what matters.  In failure to diagnose breast cancer claims, a plaintiff can prove negligence with evidence that a physician omitted or delayed a biopsy or other confirmatory test where the patient's symptoms indicated a possibility of cancer

Doctors are quick to think patients are overreacting to small changes in their breasts.  But one of the primal concepts of breast screening for breast cancer relies on the patient's identification of a breast abnormality at its earliest stage to enable the physicians to perform diagnostic testing.  Far too often, patients bring problems to their doctors' attention, and they shrug their shoulders instead of prescribing the appropriate follow up to diagnose properly the potential problem. 

Approximately 61% of breast cancer medical malpractice lawsuits are claims of misdiagnosis. But 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 interpret 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
  • failure to properly monitor a breast tissue abnormality that is currently benign  

Why Is Breast Cancer Missed So Often?

When breast cancer is either misdiagnosed or undetected, evidence that the doctor misinterpreted the results of diagnostic tests is often the basis of a breast cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit.   

It often starts with a radiologist misreading a mammogram. A mammogram is the first line of defense in screening for breast cancer. Incredibly, even today, a mammogram has a false-negative - that is, the failure to detect malignant cancer - a 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.

   

        One in four breast biopsies are incorrectly diagnosed by pathologists, according to a new study.

But here is the incredible part: scores ranged from a high of 98% to a low of 8%

What does this mean?  It is clear that a smaller number of radiologists do not appear to be particularly skilled at diagnosing breast cancer. Certainly, 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 and follow-up to make sure the patient gets the recommended care
There can also be issues with the mammogram itself.  The Mammography Quality Standards Act of 1992 (MQSA) was passed in response to studies that found that over a third of the mamography equipment in the country was not up to the appropriate standard.  MQSA requires health care facilities to be certified by FDA. The law also requires the use of specific equipment to obtain appropriate magnification, appropriate focal spot exposure, and appropriate compression so that the images can be trusted by the radiologist.  If a health care facility does not meet these standards and the images are compromised, there may be a potential malpractice claim. 
Breast Cancer Malpractice Verdicts
  • July 2015, New York: $1,600,000 SettlementThe plaintiff had a mammogram in September that showed an abnormality that the radiologist missed.  Plaintiff contended that had the radiologist noted the suspicious microcalcifications on the mammogram,  would have been diagnosed at Stage IA. Thirteen months later, the cancer was discovered at State IIIA, requiring chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and radiation treatment.
  • May 2015, Maryland: $185,000 Verdict:  This is certainly one of the lowest breast cancer misdiagnosis verdicts you are going to see in Maryland.  The Plaintiff was diagnosed with extensive high-grade ductal carcinoma in situ.  She underwent a bilateral mastectomy after her obstetrician/gynecologist failed to diagnose timely her breast cancer. Plaintiff's experts argued that the doctor breached the standard of the care by not performing a needle biopsy on the mass on her breast and that her presentation called for radiologic, cytologic and pathologic testing for three years in spite of the fact that she had this mass. The doctor offered an atrocious "I referred her for a mammogram at one point, but I forgot to write that fact down in the records" defense. That defense flopped.  But the Anne Arundel County jury verdict was very low in spite of the fact that this woman had over $70,000 in lost wages and medical bills,  It is hard to explain how they could find that a woman who underwent a double mastectomy should only get $110,000 for her pain and suffering
  • December 2013, New York: $2,225,000 Verdict: A pathologist had recently diagnosed a 45-year-old mother of three with invasive ductal carcinoma. She was required to undergo a bilateral mastectomy with bilateral reconstruction and lymph node resection. But, shortly after that, 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 economic 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' trial 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.
     

          “My prior lawyer was not able to get the insurance companies to offer a single penny in my case. Then my lawyer referred me to Ron and Laura. It was a long fight, and they fought for me every step of the way. My case settled for $1.31 million.”  

      - A.A (Baltimore City).
    During the exam, the physician observed two masses in the woman’s left breast and recommended a mammogram and ultrasound. Neither tests showed a definite mass or suspicious findings. From the results, the physician chose not to refer the woman to a breast surgeon for a precautionary follow-up and only 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 the trial 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 annual 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 for the Plaintiff for $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 in Maryland, call our lawyers at 1-800-553-8082 or click here for a free online consultation.

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