How Common Is Cancer Misdiagnosis?

By Greg Kohn

Cancer misdiagnosis is more common than one might think. According to John Hopkins Medicine, nearly three out of four instances of misdiagnosis that results in severe harm, such as permanent disability or death, happen in situations of cancer, infections, and vascular events like heart attacks or strokes. If you think that you or a loved one might be the victim of a cancer misdiagnosis, a New Jersey medical malpractice attorney can help you hold the negligent party accountable.

Experts estimate that more than 100,000 people in the United States die or become permanently disabled because of misdiagnosis. By misdiagnosis, the researchers mean that the doctor or another medical professional failed to detect the condition, made the wrong diagnosis, or delayed in diagnosing the illness. 

A research team at the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality found that almost 40 percent of all diagnostic errors involve cancer. No medical mistakes are more common than errors involving diagnosis. Diagnostic mistakes also cause the most catastrophic harm and expense of all medical errors. 

Misdiagnosis Breakdown by Type of Cancer and Age

Lung cancer is misdiagnosed more than any other type of cancer. Other kinds of cancer that frequently get misdiagnosed are breast, colorectal, prostate, and skin cancer.

Cancer misdiagnosis is far less common in children and young adults (between the ages of 0 and 20 years) than the missed diagnosis of infections. Only 9.1 percent of misdiagnoses among this age group involved cancer. In adults of middle or advanced age, cancer is the most frequent misdiagnosis that leads to severe adverse outcomes. 

Where Cancer Misdiagnoses Happen

Nearly three-fourths of diagnostic mistakes that lead to malpractice claims happened in emergency rooms or outpatient clinics, but emergency rooms tend to make most of their diagnostic errors about infections or vascular events like strokes. Outpatient clinics have a high error rate when it comes to diagnosing cancer.

How a Cancer Misdiagnosis Can Impact a Person’s Life

An accurate, timely cancer diagnosis can mean the difference between life and death. The American Cancer Society urges people to undergo screening tests before they even have symptoms. When left untreated, cancer typically gets worse and can be fatal. 

An untreated tumor can grow in size and invade surrounding tissues or organs. The malignancy can spread to nearby lymph nodes and other organs. Metastatic cancer means that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body from the original tumor.

The American Cancer Society says that that type of cancer and the stage at which the cancer gets diagnosed and treated are two of the most important factors in the individual patient’s survival rate. For example, a person whose lung cancer gets caught when it is still localized has a 61 percent chance of still being alive five years after diagnosis and the initiation of treatment, while someone whose lung cancer had spread to distant parts of the body by the time of diagnosis has only a six percent chance of surviving five years from diagnosis.

A patient whose cancer goes undiagnosed or receives a delayed or wrong diagnosis will face:

  • A greater chance of dying or becoming disabled from the cancer
  • Fewer viable treatment options
  • Treatments that are more invasive, painful, expensive, and often disfiguring

When a person gets harmed because of a cancer misdiagnosis, the party who made the mistake should bear the financial cost, not the patient. A New Jersey medical malpractice attorney can talk to you and explore whether you might have a malpractice case for a cancer misdiagnosis. Contact us today.

About the Author
Greg Kohn is a partner at Nagel Rice and specializes in complex civil litigation cases, including professional malpractice, personal injury, class actions, wrongful death, products liability, and commercial litigation.  He has extensive experience representing clients in both state and federal court. Greg has tried many jury trials to verdict and has recovered over $50 million in settlements and verdicts in all types of personal injury matters including automobile accidents, wrongful death cases, slip and falls, and other catastrophic injury cases. Greg also handles medical malpractice cases, involving misdiagnoses, wrongful birth, and delayed cancer diagnosis. If you have questions regarding this article, you can contact Greg here.