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Why is lung cancer often misdiagnosed?

Lung cancer remains the second most prevalent cancer in the United States, and the deadliest.

Unfortunately, thousands of people are suffering from the condition unawares – because their doctor has misdiagnosed them with something else.

Why do so many doctors get it wrong?

Lung cancer is notorious for manifesting in diverse ways, which means that the symptoms can be very different from one patient to the next. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, a chronic cough, chest pain, hoarseness and weight loss, among others.

Since the symptoms can also be indicative of other diseases, common misdiagnoses include:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease: GERD and other forms of acid reflux can cause significant chest discomfort and a chronic cough, so patients may waste time trying treatments for that condition instead.
  • Respiratory infections: Lung cancer symptoms can be mistaken for common respiratory infections like bronchitis or pneumonia since those can also cause hoarseness, breathing issues and a cough.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: The similarities between the symptoms of lung cancer and COPD symptoms, such as coughing and difficulty breathing, can easily cause confusion and delays in appropriate treatment.
  • Asthma: Wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness are symptoms shared by both asthma and lung cancer, and the signs are frequently misinterpreted by physicians.

In general, misdiagnoses happen for several reasons. Sometimes, doctors fail to take a patient’s complete medical history and they miss factors (like a history of smoking) that can increase the odds of lung cancer. Other times, doctors simply don’t take a patient’s symptoms seriously enough, so they jump to a diagnosis that seems “easy,” rather than referring the patient out for the appropriate tests or to a specialist.

Where cancer is concerned, an early diagnosis is the key to a better outcome. Delays in treatment can allow the disease to progress unchecked and lower the chances of a patient’s survival. If your lung cancer was misdiagnosed, you may be a victim of medical malpractice. Seeking legal guidance can help you better understand your options.