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Misdiagnosing Cancer


A report by the All.Can cancer initiative showed that as many as one in five of UK patients surveyed received at least one misdiagnosis before their cancer was identified. 22% of the 356,000 patients

A report by the All.Can cancer initiative showed that as many as one in five of UK patients surveyed received at least one misdiagnosis before their cancer was identified. 22% of the 356,000 patients received their cancer diagnosis after presenting to the Emergency Department of the hospital. Of these cases, 71% had visited their regular doctor at least once with the symptoms suggestive of cancer. This could result in as much as a six month wait to get the correct cancer diagnosis.

This inability to provide a quick, accurate diagnosis can cost patient time and quality of life. It gives the cancer more time to grow and potentially spread across the body, making treatment harder.

But why is this occurring? Some of the issues may be due to the inability of the initial doctor to recognise the symptoms as potentially cancer related, and instead attribute it to diseases that have similar symptoms.

When a doctor asks a patient for a history of their symptoms, they always have a list of potential diseases that could be causing the issues, rather than a single diagnosis. It is not just the symptoms but also other patient factors that need to be considered. Most cancers are more prevalent in the elderly, but they can also have a bias towards men or women, or in certain ethnic populations. Taking these factors into account can result in the initial misdiagnosis. This can be avoided through training and research into a specialist’s field, and through decades of experience.

But it is not always the individual doctor’s fault. Sometimes doctors may feel pressured due to very narrow time constraints in which they must review a high volume of patients, and they may not always have enough time to ask the right questions or explore the patients concerns. And if cancer is suspected, not all tests are adept at catching cancer. Simple tests, such as the faecal occult blood test (used to find bowel cancer) have a failure rate. A patient with bowel cancer may receive a false result stating no bowel cancer exists. Gold standard tests require referrals to specialists, and this can introduce further delays.

So, what does this mean for you? If you feel that your symptoms are worsening, and you may have received a misdiagnosis, you can request a second opinion. This sends your individual case to a fresh pair of eyes, who can use their extensive knowledge and experience and put together your symptoms, risk factors and test results to provide the correct diagnosis.

If they believe there may be some doubt in the diagnosis, they may recommend further tests that your regular doctor has not yet performed, tests that are more accurate and have a lower failure rate. From these results they can confirm the initial diagnosis, putting your mind at ease.

Or if they believe your symptoms are suggestive of a more serious diagnosis, they can explain this to you with simple, easy to understand language. They can also tell you the treatment options available to you, and which one may be the best for your specific diagnosis.

A misdiagnosis does not mean the doctor is always at fault. During consultations they have your best interest in mind. However they are still human, and not infallible, and sometimes mistakes are made. It is these situations in which patients benefit from easy access to a second opinion, from highly trained specialists with years of experience in their field. If you would like to learn more about receiving a diagnosis, visit our site at secondmedic.com

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