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Understanding breast cancer misdiagnosis

October is recognized as breast cancer awareness month. More than 200,000 American women are diagnosed with this form of cancer each year, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates that roughly 40,000 women lose their battle with breast cancer each year. Woman over the age of 50 are at the highest risk, however, about 10 percent of new cases involve women under the age of 45. Notably, about 1 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses involve men.

As with most any form of cancer, early diagnosis is critical. Self testing and diagnostic screenings, including mammograms are often the processes that first indicate that breast cancer may be present. However, the medical profession does not always properly detect or diagnose breast cancer in its earliest stages.

Studies Vary On The Rate Of Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis

Studies on the subject in recent years have returned different conclusions, according to Boston Magazine. A study conducted by Best Doctors, Inc. in conjunction with the National Coalition on Health Care in 2013 estimated that misdiagnosis rates are fairly low, falling between zero and 10 percent. That is in direct contrast to previous research published in the by the BMJ Quality and Safety Journal that placed the misdiagnosis rate at roughly 28 percent of all cases.

Top Reasons For Misdiagnosis, The Doctor's View

Doctors who were surveyed weighed in on the most common reasons that breast cancer is not diagnosed in a timely manner. The top three reasons medical professional believe that breast cancer is not properly diagnosed are:

  • Missing or fragmented medical records
  • Inadequate diagnostic equipment to detect the cancer
  • Incomplete or inadequate DNA information at the time of diagnostic review (either genetic or genomic information related to the individual patient)

Many women who are diagnosed with this type of cancer have no family history of the disease. Symptoms can vary greatly from woman to woman. Changes in the size of the breast, pain, abnormal discharges or a lump in the breast -- or a lump under the arm -- may all serve as early warning signs of cancer. Following up with a doctor is important protections that women can undertake if symptoms arise. Regular mammograms are also important, according to the CDC.

It is also important for individuals to understand that medical professional do make mistakes. Seeking a second opinion if a doctor is waiting too long to order appropriate testing has not arrived at a diagnosis at all in a timely fashion or has returned a diagnosis of a benign cyst may help give you to protect yourself. A delayed or incorrect diagnosis will allow the cancer to advance unchecked. 

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