Errors in breast cancer diagnosis occur when a doctor does not detect or fails to test and follow up on a suspicious mass appropriately. The most common breast cancer medical malpractice claim is when the radiologist misreads a mammogram. These are among the most common diagnostic errors we see as medical malpractice lawyers.
Our Maryland breast cancer misdiagnosis lawyers represent victims and their families seeking compensation for misdiagnosis or a medical mistake.
If you believe you have a medical malpractice case, call our lawyers at 1-800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation to discuss your potential cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit.
Breast cancer is often curable. Today, in 2023, according to the American Cancer Society, approximately 3.5 million living breast cancer survivors in the United States can attest to this. However, the consequences of breast cancer misdiagnosis can be severe and often fatal because early detection is a breast cancer patient’s best hope of recovering from the disease.
Detection of breast cancer in its later stages increases the risk of death significantly. The statistics are good when breast cancer is detected early and confined to the breast. The five-year survival rate approaches 100% when the disease is caught in Stage I.
The statistics are more daunting when the spread becomes distant. Diagnosis at stage IV drops 5-year survival rates to 28%. Thanks to early screening efforts and awareness, about 44% of patients are diagnosed at stage I, while only about 5% are diagnosed at stage IV.
These statistics drive home that cancer survival rates are strongly correlated with early detection and treatment. The reason that many in that 5% that are diagnosed at such a late stage is because of misdiagnosis. You see a lot of breast cancer misdiagnosis settlements and verdicts in that window.
Apart from skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women. As many as one in eight American women will have the disease during their lifetime. It is estimated that 281,550 women and 2,650 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021. This year, breast cancer is expected to cause 43,600 deaths. Some of these deaths could have been avoided if malpractice did not lead to a delay in diagnosis and treatment.
Most Common Viable Breast Cancer Malpractice Lawsuits
Experts have not always agreed on what age women should begin getting mammograms. Some health organizations say 40, some say 45, and some say 50. In any case, women should have a formal screening between the ages of 25 and 30 and start getting a yearly mammogram screening sooner if they are at a higher risk.
What everyone can agree on is the importance of early detection. Primary care doctors, radiologists, and any doctor looking at a potential breast cancer patient has to do what is required to diagnose the disease quickly. In failure to diagnose breast cancer claims, a plaintiff can prove negligence with evidence that a physician omitted or delayed a biopsy or another confirmatory test where the patient’s symptoms indicated a possibility of cancer.
Doctors are sometimes quick to think patients are overreacting to small changes in their breasts. But one of the primary 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 test to confirm or rule out a cancer diagnosis.
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 commonly found malpractice is a doctor’s failure to:
- Perform or analyze a diagnostic mammogram
- Inform a patient of mammogram results
- Perform or interpret an ultrasound
- Perform or analyze a breast biopsy
- Inform the patient of the results of a biopsy
- Evaluate a breast lump correctly
- Communicate with patient’s other doctors to make sure cancer treatment needs are met
- Properly monitor a breast tissue abnormality that is currently benign
Why Is Breast Cancer Missed?
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 diagnosing breast cancer. Even today, a mammogram may result in a false negative, failing to detect malignant cancer at a rate of 10% to 30%. False positives, when the person turns out to not actually have cancer, are also common. AI systems are now being developed that outperform radiologists.
Why is this? Some scenarios make seeing cancer on mammograms more difficult, such as denser than average breasts. But unfortunately, another reason is that the mammogram-reading skills of general radiologists vary significantly. Most missed cancers are visible and seen on mammograms but are either unnoticed or assessed as benign—this is sometimes due simply to human error. These human error false negatives account for around 1.3% to 45% of missed cancers.
“Breast cancer visible on mammograms is often missed or disregarded by readers.”
A small number of radiologists do not appear to be exceptionally skilled at diagnosing breast cancer. Some factors that lead to missed cancers include fatigue, distraction, anatomical noise on the images, the subtlety of the appearance of some cancers, the reader’s experience and knowledge, and perceptual errors. There is, however, no excuse for missing cancer on a mammogram screening when it is right in front of you. In cases of confusion, for example, it may be as easy as seeking a second opinion, a second pair of eyes.
But it is not just radiologists that make errors in these cases. Delay or failure to timely diagnose is the second most frequent malpractice claim against obstetricians/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 mammography equipment in the country was not up to the appropriate standard. MQSA requires healthcare facilities to be certified by the FDA. The law also requires specific equipment to obtain appropriate magnification, appropriate focal spot exposure, and appropriate compression so the radiologist can trust the images. If a healthcare facility does not meet these standards and the images are compromised, there may be a potential malpractice claim.
Can You Sue a Doctor for Not Diagnosing Breast Cancer?
Yes. If a doctor fails to diagnose your breast cancer because of negligent care or a mistake, you can sue them for medical malpractice. In fact, failure to diagnose breast cancer is one of the most common types of diagnostic error malpractice claims. Failure to correctly interpret mammogram images is the most common medical negligence in breast cancer cases.
How Often Is Breast Cancer Misdiagnosed?
Breast cancer is one of the most frequently misdiagnosed types of cancer. Around 30% of breast cancer cases are misdiagnosed. False negative mammograms are the most common reason for misdiagnosis of breast cancer. Mammograms can be challenging to read and interpret, especially in younger women with dense breast tissue.
Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis Settlement Amounts
The average value of a medical malpractice case involving a failure to diagnose breast cancer is between $500,000 and $800,000. Cancer misdiagnosis cases generally have a somewhat lower value than other types of malpractice cases.
The average compensation amount is lower because most cancer misdiagnosis cases only involve a delay in diagnosing the cancer. Longer delays in diagnosis tend to increase the value of a case.
Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis Settlements and Verdicts
Our attorneys provide sample verdicts and settlements in breast cancer misdiagnosis cases because people have a right to see how these claims are being valued. They help victims and lawyers better understand the value of breast cancer misdiagnosis cases. Keep in mind that these verdicts cannot be used to predict the results of other cases.
- January 2023, Maryland: $2,400,000 Verdict: A 40-year-old woman was diagnosed with breast cancer after a tumor was identified in her right breast. She underwent chemo, followed by a nipple-sparing double mastectomy at GBMC. Following the surgery, however, the defendants failed to realize that the tumor had not been removed from the right breast. The resulting delay in her cancer treatment resulted in a decreased chance of survival and additional treatment, including five weeks of radiation therapy, which resulted in skin loss, burning, scarring, and contracture formation.
- May 2021, Pennsylvania: $100,000 Settlement This is probably the lowest verdict you will see in a breast cancer misdiagnosis case. A 76-year-old woman underwent two yearly mammograms. The second mammogram showed a suspicious mass in her right breast. However, the radiologist failed to inform the woman of the mass. Thirteen months later, she underwent a third mammogram. The results revealed Stage IV breast cancer. The woman died five weeks later. Her family hired a breast cancer misdiagnosis lawyer and alleged negligence against the radiologist. She claimed he failed to appreciate her breast cancer family history, consult other physicians, order a biopsy, and rule out breast cancer. This case settled for $100,000.
- April 2021, New York: $2,100,000 Settlement A 36-year-old woman had a mammogram that had suspicious findings. The doctor failed to inform the woman of the results. As you will see below, the classic failure to communicate is a common theme. Six months later, the woman was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. She died. The woman’s family sued the radiologist. They claimed he failed to make a biopsy referral and properly document the mammogram. This case settled for $2,100,000.
- October 2020, New York: $2,000,000 Verdict A 30-year-old woman was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and bilateral mastectomies. Her cancer recurred nine months later. It spread to the woman’s ribs, sternum, and spine. She died one year later. The woman’s family sued for failure to diagnose breast cancer and order tests to rule it out. The federal judge, as opposed to a jury because they sued a federally funded clinic, awarded $2,000,000.
- July 2019, Washington DC: $14,300,000 Verdict A woman underwent a mammogram. The radiologist interpreted it as normal. One year later, the woman was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. She alleged negligence against the radiologist. She claimed she misinterpreted the mammogram, failed to order additional testing, and breached care standards. The woman received a $14,300,000 verdict.
- February 2019, California: $887,806 Settlement A 47-year-old patient with a family history of breast cancer cases went to the doctor to examine a lump in her breast. The doctor aspirated the mass with a needle. The physician discarded the aspirate tissue instead of sending it to cytology for analysis. The doctor sent the patient for a mammogram, but the large gauge needle he used for the aspiration caused a hematoma, obscuring the tumor and preventing diagnosis. The result was a 4-month delay in diagnosis of what eventually turned out to be aggressive breast cancer that had already spread, and the patient died. Her family hired a malpractice attorney and sued the doctor. The lawsuit claimed he was negligent in not sending the aspirate tissue for analysis.
- February 2019, Washington DC: $680,000 Verdict The plaintiff sued defendant radiologists, alleging that they negligently misread her mammogram screening and failed timely identify a tumor in her left breast. The result was a delay in diagnosis and treatment, requiring the plaintiff to undergo a double mastectomy, ovary removal, chemo, and multiple reconstructive surgeries. The defendants denied wrongdoing, saying they were not negligent in interpreting the mammogram images. The case went to trial in Washington, DC, and a jury verdict awarded $680,000 in damages.
- November 2018, California: $1,200,000 Settlement A 37-year-old woman goes to her primary care doctors complaining of shortness of breath, and she has a CT angiogram done to rule out a pulmonary embolism. The CT angiogram reveals enlarged lymph nodes in her right axilla area (a common symptom of breast cancer), and the radiologist suggests a follow-up clinical examination. Her primary care doctor apparently ignores this recommendation and never does any follow-up exam or additional workup on the enlarged lymph node. One year later, the plaintiff is diagnosed with terminal stage IV b
breast cancer, and cancer is confirmed in the enlarged lymph node. Had the doctor followed up on the lymph node the previous year, he would have caught the cancer in stage II, which would have been treatable. The case settles for $1.2 million.
- August 2017, Pennsylvania: $3,350,000 Verdict A woman in Philadelphia underwent numerous annual mammograms which showed suspicious deposits and calcifications, but radiologists repeatedly interpreted the results as showing “no evidence of malignancy.” It was not until after a lump could be felt in her breast that the radiologist recommended a biopsy confirming that she had breast cancer. She hired a Philadelphia malpractice lawyer and sued the radiology group, alleging that they negligently misinterpreted her prior mammograms, resulting in a 22-month delay in her breast cancer diagnosis, reducing her life expectancy. A jury verdict in Philadelphia awards $3.3 million in damages.
- July 2017, New York: $15,000,000 The plaintiff went to the doctors at Comprehensive Breast Care for regular mammograms. Over three years, she had five separate mammograms, all interpreted as “normal and benign” by defendants. By the time her breast cancer was eventually diagnosed, her tumor was 8.5 cm (the size of an apple), and the prognosis was grim. She sued the breast care practice doctors for misreading her mammogram results and breaching the standard of care by having non-radiologists interpret her mammograms. A jury verdict in King’s County awarded $15 million.
- July 2015, New York: $1,600,000 Settlement The plaintiff had a mammogram that showed an abnormality the radiologist missed. The plaintiff contended that had the radiologist noted the suspicious microcalcifications on the mammogram, it would have been diagnosed at Stage I. Thirteen months later, the cancer was discovered at Stage III, requiring chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and radiation treatment.
- May 2015, Maryland: $185,000 Verdict This is one of the lowest breast cancer misdiagnosis verdicts you will see in Maryland. Plaintiff was diagnosed with extensive high-grade ductal carcinoma in situ. She underwent a bilateral mastectomy after her obstetrician/gynecologist failed to timely diagnose her breast cancer. She hired a cancer misdiagnosis lawyer and filed a lawsuit. The plaintiff’s experts argued that the doctor breached the standard of 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, even though she had this mass. The doctor offered an “I referred her for a mammogram at one point, but I forgot to write that fact down in the records” defense. That defense failed, but the Anne Arundel County jury verdict was low. She 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 a $110,000 jury verdict 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. The 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 unable 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 test 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 her 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 hired a breast cancer misdiagnosis lawyer. She 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 has a diminished life expectancy and can no longer enjoy her day-to-day activities, knowing she will 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 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 radiologist failed to timely 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. The radiologist argued that the cancer had not significantly changed during the time between the two mammograms. The plaintiff also alleged that the defendant should have noted the abnormality in her left breast and ordered more tests, such as an ultrasound. The defense was to blame the patient. The defense attorney 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 awarded $7,000,000.
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.
Related Breast Cancer Lawsuit Medical Literature
- “Reexamining Time From Breast Cancer Diagnosis to Primary Breast Surgery” by Alyssa A. Wiener, et al., JAMA Surgery, May 2023.
This study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Surgery in May 2023 focuses on the timing of primary breast surgery after a breast cancer diagnosis and its impact on patient survival. The study aims to determine the ideal time frame for surgery and the factors influencing surgical delays. Factors associated with longer delays in surgery included younger age, uninsured or Medicaid status, and lower neighborhood household income. The study suggests that using eight weeks or less as a quality benchmark for the time to surgery may be appropriate.
- “Changes in cancer detection and false-positive recall in mammography using artificial intelligence: a retrospective, multi-reader study” by Hyo-Eun Kim et al., The Lancet Digital Health, March 2020.
The implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies is expected to improve the diagnosis of cancers. This recent study collected 30,000 cancer-positive mammograms from different countries, which researchers used to train an AI to diagnose breast cancer. Using multinational data sets, the researchers claim, was critical to their success. AI is so exciting because, as shown in this study, it can be more successful than radiologists at detecting cancer, suggesting that AI can prove a valuable tool to physicians in diagnosis.
- “Five Consecutive Years of Screening with Digital Breast Tomosynthesis: Outcomes by Screening Year and Round” by Emily Conant et al., Radiology, March 2020.
There is a debate about the benefits of 3D versus 2D mammography technologies. 3D mammography, experts think, is better at diagnosing cancer, while others worry about the dangers of overdiagnosis. This study, which analyzed the results of almost 70,000 mammograms over five years, found that not only do 3D mammograms find more cancer, but they also result in fewer false positives, somewhat allaying fears about overdiagnosis with this tool. The authors recommend that women ask about 3D mammography before making their appointments.
- “Comparison of Abbreviated Breast MRI vs Digital Breast Tomosynthesis for Breast Cancer Detection Among Women With Dense Breasts Undergoing Screening” by Christopher Comstock, JAMA, February 2020.
Some women have what doctors call “dense” breasts. What does this mean? The breasts comprise “nondense” fatty tissue and “dense” tissue, including milk glands, milk ducts, and supportive tissue. Some women have more dense tissue than fatty tissue, which is normal. However, it makes detecting cancer on mammograms harder for doctors. In this study, researchers found that a type of MRI exam called a Fast Breast MRI was better at detecting cancer in women with dense breasts than a 3D mammogram.
- “Morbidity of Breast Cancer as a Function of Screening Interval: Annual versus Biennial” by Sarah Moorman et al., Radiological Society of North America Annual Meeting, December 2019.
This study looked at women diagnosed with breast cancer over two years at a health facility in Michigan. The researchers wanted to know if there was a difference between getting mammograms yearly versus every other year. They found that cancers were less advanced in women who got mammograms yearly. These women needed less aggressive treatments than those who only got a mammogram every other year.
Related Links for Breast Cancer Claims
- Doctors get breach cancer diagnosis wrong both ways – this 2022 study shows one in seven women are overdiagnosed
- Overview of Malpractice Cases
- Overview of Misdiagnosis Cases
- Example of a breast cancer lawsuit
- Undiagnosed Breast Cancer Lawsuit
- Delayed Breast Cancer Diagnosis Lawsuit
- Delayed Breast Cancer Metastasis Diagnosis Lawsuit
Hire a Lawyer Who Fights for You
The experienced medical malpractice lawyers at our law firm, Miller & Zois, understand that this is a tough time for you and your family. If you or a loved one is a cancer patient and was a victim of medical malpractice, we can help you get the compensation you deserve. To discuss your malpractice or wrongful death claim, call us at (800) 553-8082 or go online for a free consultation.