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Radiologists often fail to diagnose breast cancer: But why?

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent types of cancer affecting women. Sometimes, the doctor’s assessment of the mammography results is not accurate. Considering the serious consequences of breast cancer, failure to diagnose may prove fatal at times. Nonetheless, according to a recent study published in the journal Radiology, radiologists face many medical malpractice lawsuits because of failure to diagnose breast cancer. New Yorkers may be wondering what leads to these medical errors.

The study used the data collected by One-Call Medical network and examined 4,793 medical malpractice claims filed against radiologists in 47 states. The majority of malpractice suits were the outcome of mammography errors. In most cases, radiologists did not detect lesions on the mammography scans. Not recommending follow-up testing was another physician error that led to the malpractice lawsuits. Furthermore, the researchers observed that errors in diagnosis rather than communication were most frequent.

The study may have been flawed in that it combined all radiologists into a single category, whereas only those radiologists who administer mammographies and engage in interventional radiology actually communicate directly with the patient.

According to the lead researcher, it may be difficult for the radiologist to spot lesions in the case of dense breasts in some cases. However, this is a very poor justification for a missed diagnosis. Medical professionals should understand that the standard of care expected from them is not that of a layperson but that of an expert. Radiologists need to be more precise when scanning patients for breast cancer symptoms. A radiologist must be sure about the diagnosis after the mammography. If there is any doubt, additional testing should be recommended rather than simply discharging the patient.

Failure to diagnose cancer or a delayed diagnosis may jeopardize the chances of the survival of breast cancer victims. Breast cancer victims who have suffered as a result of failure to diagnose and the resulting delayed treatment may file a personal injury lawsuit. The compensation awarded in these lawsuits may include medical expenses, rehabilitation expenses, lost wages and damages for pain and suffering. Although the compensation may not undo the harm already done to breast cancer patients, it may help malpractice victims to receive better medical treatment and increase their chances of survival.

Source:, “Radiologists see most malpractice suits for mammography,” Loren Bonner, Feb. 6, 2013


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