Even though more than a million and a half American women will undergo a breast biopsy this year, a new study shows there is a pretty steep margin of error in the procedure. In fact, in almost half the cases, the diagnosis of the pathologist was not the same as the correct diagnosis of atypical ductal hyperplasia. Misdiagnoses of this nature could lead to one of two scenarios: under-treatment or overtreatment, either of which could have potentially fatal results.
In many cases, a woman first notices a lump in her breast on her own, or she goes in for her regularly scheduled mammogram and receives an “abnormal” diagnosis. At this point it is likely that a physician will remove a tiny piece of breast tissue and send it to the laboratory to be tested for cancerous cells.
Cancer Misdiagnosis | Pathologist Diagnosis Percentages
The pathologist, a doctor who is trained to examine blood, urine, and tissue samples, will perform a molecular analysis of the biopsied tissue to determine whether cancer is present. A team of researchers from universities across the nation set out to see just how accurate these pathology findings really are. A total of 115 pathologists took part in the study, making 6,900 diagnoses. While the pathologists got it right almost 96 percent of the time when diagnosing invasive carcinoma, their results weren’t as stellar in other types of breast cancer. In atypia breast tissue samples, the pathologists were right only about 48 percent of the time while in DCIS and benign lesions, the pathologists made the correct diagnosis only 84 and 87 percent of the time.
How the Wrong Diagnosis Could Be Devastating | Misdiagnosing a Benign Tumor
Atypical hyperplasia (atypia) means only that there may be some growths in the tissue which don’t look quite normal and may be considered a pre-cursor to breast cancer. While you would definitely want to keep a close eye on a result of atypical hyperplasia, it would not warrant any extreme measures at this point. This means that, when pathologists are wrong about diagnosing atypical hyperplasia nearly half of the time, the result could either be a patient who thinks everything is perfect and neglects to follow up, or overtreatment for a diagnosis which warrants only careful monitoring.
Ductal carcinoma is the most common form of non-invasive breast cancer–considered non-invasive only because it has not spread beyond the milk ducts into normal surrounding breast tissue. While DCIS is not considered life-threatening in itself, it can increase a woman’s risk of developing invasive breast cancer later on in life. Just like atypia, DCIS would require both immediate treatment as well as careful monitoring in the future. If the pathologist failed to recognize DCIS, the immediate problem would not be addressed, but there might also be no follow-up over the years. Misdiagnosing a benign tumor (no cancer involved) as a cancerous tumor could lead to unnecessary breast cancer treatment, which can have serious side effects of its own.
Get a Second Pathology Opinion
So what does this study mean for women across the nation? Get a second opinion. First, whether your diagnosis is “good” or “bad,” have a second pathologist take an independent look at the breast tissue from your biopsy. You can do this by having the sample sent to a pathologist at a different hospital (which does not even need to be near you). Once you find a breast pathologist who can review your breast tissue slides, you will call the pathology department at the hospital where your biopsy was performed and ask that the breast tissue slides be sent to the pathologist of your choice. This second pathology opinion will allow you to be sure of your diagnosis before discussing possible treatments. Unexpectedly, in the above study, pathologists employed in larger group practices with a much busier workload were more likely to get the diagnosis right.
Contact Our Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyers
If you or someone you love has been misdiagnosed after a breast biopsy, the medical malpractice attorneys at McLaughlin & Lauricella, P.C., can help. Our team of lawyers consists of some of the best medical malpractice attorneys in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and we will fight aggressively for you throughout the legal process.
The medical malpractice attorneys at McLaughlin & Lauricella, P.C., have more than 68 years of experience representing patients and their families across Philadelphia, Berks, Bucks, Dauphin, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Montgomery, and Northampton counties. We area also proud to serve injured patients throughout the State of New Jersey. Contact us today at 215-568-1510 or fill out our confidential contact form to learn more about your legal options.