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Cancer misdiagnosis: North Carolina woman cautions other patients

When Fayetteville residents experience abnormal symptoms that could indicate that there is something seriously wrong with their health, they turn to their physicians and other medical experts for help. After all, it is the duty of doctors to carefully analyze each patient's unusual symptoms and to perform any necessary tests in order to rule out a serious disorder or to make a proper diagnosis.

A misdiagnosis could prevent a patient from being able to take advantage of medical treatment in order to stop one's illness or disease from causing further health problems. That is what happened to one North Carolina woman who is now dying from breast cancer. Her advice to other patients: Understand that medical professionals do make mistakes, especially when doctors fail to communicate effectively with each other. This lack of communication between specialists and physicians can result in a failure to diagnose cancer.

In 2007, the woman began experiencing back pain and fatigue. She could not figure out why she was suddenly experiencing these symptoms, and neither could medical professionals at Duke University. It took three years of visits to different doctors and specialists before it was determined that the woman had breast cancer.

Cancer can be difficult to diagnose, but the woman later learned that her cancer was initially detected in February 2008. The results of an MRI had suggested that the woman had cancer, but a bone scan had suggested that the woman's symptoms were caused by arthritis. Instead of making sure that a biopsy was performed to confirm whether the results of the MRI or the bone scan were correct, doctors suggested that the woman's symptoms were most likely caused by arthritis, not cancer.

Finally, in November 2010, a new MRI revealed that the patient had several tumors along her spine, sacrum and pelvis. Biopsies were performed and it was discovered that the woman had stage IV metastatic breast cancer.

Although the woman cannot go back in time and change the way she handled more than 50 visits with medical professionals concerning her unusual back pain and fatigue, she hopes that other patients will learn from her mistakes and realize that they must take more control over making sure that their symptoms are properly diagnosed in a timely manner. She also hopes that medical professionals will understand the importance of communicating effectively with each other when working together to diagnose a patient's concerning symptoms.

Source: The News & Observer, "The pain of a missed diagnosis," Karen Holliman, April 10, 2012

1 Comment

Wow, my heart goes out to this woman. I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year at the age of 31; I found the lump myself. But I did realize going through this horrible time in my life, doctors do make mistakes and they don't know everything. Ultimately you have to be insistent and make your own decisions.

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