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Why are so many cancer patients misdiagnosed?

Five critical errors that can lead to misdiagnosis

When your body is fighting cancer, a prompt and accurate diagnosis can literally be a matter of life and death. So why do doctors keep getting it wrong?

According to the New York Times, doctors and pathologists misdiagnose up to 28 percent of patients — an alarmingly high number when you consider the damage that an inaccurate diagnosis can cause.

There are many reasons why doctors make diagnostic mistakes involving cancer:

  1. Brushing off symptoms – Doctors may ignore or minimize symptoms that could indicate cancer. Some symptoms, such as bloating, digestive issues, fatigue and unexpected weight loss, are easily overlooked or attributed to aging. Young adults who are otherwise healthy often suffer the most from this negligence, as many doctors don’t even consider the possibility that they might have cancer.
  2. Not spending enough time with the patient – If your doctor doesn’t know you personally, or at least have a thorough grip on your medical history, it can be very difficult for him or her to evaluate your symptoms and make a proper diagnosis.
  3. Using unreliable tools or processes – Hospitals may unwittingly use faulty equipment to run tests, or make seemingly small errors that result in sample contamination.
  4. Holes in the hospital’s information systems – Most clinics and hospitals have thorough record-keeping systems in place. However, when those systems malfunction or someone fails to update records possibly, every health care professional you see may be missing part of your story that could be critical to your diagnosis.
  5. Insufficient knowledge to make a diagnosis – In our health care system, many doctors are encouraged to specialize their practice more and more. This is often a good thing, as it provides patients with thorough care regarding their specific concerns. However, it can backfire when a highly specialized physician fails to take a holistic look at someone’s symptoms. On the other side, doctors who haven’t specialized enough may miss critical warning signs.

With such a high risk of misdiagnosis, is there anything you can do to help your doctor make the right call? In a future post, we’ll share ways you can minimize your risk and get the care you need.

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