Cancer is probably the last word you wanted your doctor to say when you came in for diagnostic support. However, finding out as soon as possible that you have cancer is crucial if that is truly your diagnosis.
Unfortunately, many common forms of cancer have symptoms that are easy to confuse with other, less serious medical issues, especially in the early stages. Diagnostic mistakes involving cancer are common, and they can be devastating for the patients involved.
Why is it so dangerous for a doctor to miss the possibility that cancer is what caused someone’s symptoms?
Cancer grows and will eventually spread
After identifying that someone has cancer cells growing in their body, doctors will then seek to determine how widespread the cancer has become and the type of cancer that it is. Patients who discovered their cancer in the early stages when it is still localized to one part of the body have the best chance of survival.
Unfortunately, early-stage, localized cancer tends to produce the mildest and most common kinds of symptoms, like fatigue, weight loss and a chronic cough. People may only develop more severe symptoms when the cancer spreads or grows. The later stages of cancer development involve it metastasizing or spreading to other parts of the body.
Metastatic cancer can spread from one kind of tissue to many others, making it hard to treat and fully remove from the body. The longer someone goes without an accurate diagnosis, the more likely they are for the cancer to spread to other areas. That will not only worsen their prognosis but will likely also limit their treatment options. Doctors can remove a single lump, but the issue becomes much more severe when the cancer that caused the lump has now spread through half of your lymph nodes.
Doctors should never jump to conclusions
It is a doctor’s job to evaluate what a patient says and what they can observe themselves to determine what causes their symptoms. A successful diagnosis can connect patients with the right treatment and potentially save their lives. On the other hand, a delayed diagnosis can do real harm to the patient involved.
If another, competent doctor would have ordered more testing or delayed reaching a diagnostic conclusion until they had more evidence, you may be able to hold your doctor accountable for diagnosing you with the wrong condition or dismissing your symptoms until your situation was much worse.
Identifying the consequences of medical mistakes like a delayed cancer diagnosis can push patients to seek justice from doctors who have failed them.