Medical Malpractice — Breast Cancer

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Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women, yet one of the most frequently missed, the consequences of which can be devastating.

The central fact about breast cancer, and the issue at the center of breast cancer malpractice, is this: With early and proper diagnosis, breast cancer is a largely curable disease. This means, quite simply, that failure to diagnose breast cancer in a timely manner and/or misdiagnosing or mistreating breast cancer is often the cause of negative or fatal outcomes.

Prompt diagnosis and treatment can mean the difference between saving a breast and losing it; and, more importantly between saving a life and losing it. The key to obtaining the best possible outcome is early diagnosis. Unfortunately, delayed cancer diagnosis, due to negligence or medical errors, is still a common cause of breast cancer complications, the necessity of mastectomy, cancer metastases and death.

Caught early, breast cancer can often be treated with lumpectomy (with or without removal of some lymph nodes) and radiation; in later stages, chemotherapy is often also indicated, or chemotherapy and mastectomy with removal of involved lymph nodes.

Breast Cancer Malpractice

The fact that improper diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer is a significant public health issue points to ongoing negligence of many health care professionals.

The central issue in breast cancer malpractice is the fact that if it is diagnosed and treated early enough breast cancer survival rates are at an astonishing 80-90%! These rates drop dramatically when diagnosis and treatment are delayed.

Common causes of late diagnosis, misdiagnosis, late treatment and/or improper or incomplete treatment include:

  1. Ignoring or dismissing a patient’s legitimate complaints
  2. Telling a woman a lump is probably benign, “nothing to worry about” or “let’s just follow it for awhile” when it fact it is cancer
  3. Failing to perform a breast examination as part of an annual check up
  4. Faulty or inadequate physical examination, where a doctor fails to detect a thickening, lump, growth or early stage tumor in an area where a tumor is later found
  5. Missing important warning signs and symptoms
  6. Taking an inadequate patient and family history that may have alerted the doctor to earlier suspicion or concern
  7. Failing to order appropriate tests such as a mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, needle biopsy, etc. when it should have been indicated by signs, symptoms or family history
  8. Failing to correctly read and interpret the results of such tests
  9. Misreading or failing to properly read a mammogram, missing early signs of growth, thickening or lump on a mammogram
  10. Missing or dismissing microcalcifications on a mammogram
  11. False negative mammogram results
  12. Failing to follow-up on notification or required actions from tests and tests results
  13. Failing to refer to a specialist
  14. Failure to order a biopsy when a competent heath care professional would have done so
  15. Missed test results from a biopsy
  16. Failure to remove all diseased tissue on a lumpectomy
  17. Ignoring or missing suspicious signs of cancer even prior to lump or growth

Breast cancer is an aggressive disease that can quickly spread to the lymph nodes and metastasize to other body parts and organs, which is why critical and early diagnosis is so important. Failure to do so can lead to loss of one or both breasts or death.

Delays in diagnosing breast cancer cases account for more medical malpractice lawsuits than any other disease or condition, according to a study by the Physician Insurers Association of America (PIAA). The study found that the single greatest reason for breast malpractice claims is that doctors did not consider physical findings significant enough to warrant tests to check for potential breast cancer.

Often the problem shows up in relation to younger women, where the doctors mistakenly assume that cancer is unlikely because of age. In one study, 60% of misdiagnoses were women under 50 and 31% were women under 40. Even if the women themselves had found a suspicious growth, doctors did not pursue full investigation or order appropriate tests. Younger women also have denser breast tissue and mammograms can be more challenging to read. Which rather than being an excuse should make doctors and radiologists MORE not less diligent in reading test results.

Breast cancer is a hard enough disease for women to face. They risk of death and the trauma of losing breast tissue or an entire breast or breasts can feel overwhelming. To face those risks knowing that if a doctor had been more diligent and caught the breast cancer earlier, their risks, treatment and outcomes might have been markedly different is more than a woman should have to endure.

If there is any question or any suspicion of cancer, further testing should be advocated. If there is still uncertainty, a biopsy may be appropriate. With needle biopsy, the procedure is less invasive than it once was and can often be done on an outpatient basis at a breast center without a hospital stay.

If a doctor’s negligence, oversight, incompetence or errors contribute to a negative outcome, or if the doctor failed to order appropriate tests or follow-up because of managed care’s pressure to keep costs down, something should be done.


The consequences of missed diagnoses can be devastating. The stage at which a cancer is discovered and treated can make all the difference in the world. The difference between a Stage 1 cancer and a Stage 4 cancer can drop survival rates by as much as 81%!

Contact Information

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