Skip to content

Cancer Misdiagnosis Statistics

Doctor talking about the misdiagnosis he had towards the patient.

Cancer affects millions of families across the United States each year. Research supports the idea that early detection is often the key to achieving the best clinical outcome for most forms of the disease. Unfortunately for many people, diagnosis may be delayed through a negligent medical error on the part of the doctors they rely on most. This can allow the disease to spread and the prognosis to worsen.

A Washington Post story reported that research from the Mayo Clinic showed that over 20 percent of patients who sought a second opinion were misdiagnosed by their primary care providers. The Post noted a report from the National Academy of Medicine that stated most people would receive an incorrect or late diagnosis at least once in their lives.

The Law Offices of Dr. Michael M. Wilson, M.D., J.D. & Associates represent individuals who have suffered because of a missed or delayed diagnosis of cancer, or misdiagnosis of cancer when the disease was not actually present. Call us or fill out a contact form to schedule a free consultation with one of our medical malpractice attorneys today.

How Can Cancer Be Misdiagnosed?

A cancer misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can occur in many ways. A person could be diagnosed with cancer and then find out they do not actually have it, or a person could be informed they are cancer-free when they actually have cancer.

Some common ways cancer may be misdiagnosed include:

  • Misinterpreting symptoms
  • Ignoring symptoms
  • Errors in evaluating medical scans
  • Improperly conducted tests
  • Communication breakdowns between labs and doctors
  • Failure to perform thorough, complete physical examination
  • Failure to recommend or offer cancer screening
  • Failure to recommend necessary tests
  • Failure to obtain biopsy
  • Failure to refer to appropriate specialists

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that lung cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer accounted for approximately 10 percent of physician-reported errors.

People with cancer who do not have their disease promptly identified can lose out on valuable corrective measures that could have been taken and may have to undergo more invasive methods of treatment. Similarly, those who are diagnosed with cancer when they do not actually have the disease may agree to multiple unnecessary procedures that can take a dramatic physical and psychological toll on their health.

Doctor Error in Cancer Misdiagnosis

It is important to keep in mind that a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis may not automatically be considered medical malpractice. A physician could have a perfectly valid explanation for their original diagnosis that is supported by other similarly licensed professionals in a similar field.

A medical malpractice claim will require a deeper analysis of a physician’s original diagnostic evaluations. You need to determine if the correct diagnosis was ever considered by a doctor and whether there was an obligation to consider further testing or seek additional opinions.

Sometimes, physicians may misdiagnose cancer because of inaccurate test results. These cases can be complicated because another party could be responsible for incorrect test information. It is also possible that a doctor could misread or misinterpret certain test results.

Not all doctors have the necessary training to fully understand complex diseases. It may be possible that a physician simply lacked the medical knowledge necessary to appreciate a cancer symptom or other sign.

Symptoms can be tricky for doctors because some minor and major health conditions share certain symptoms. A physician is placed in a difficult position of determining the severity. Most cancer tests are given very diligent attention and focus, but some misdiagnosis errors are simply the result of inadequate attention paid to important details.

Patient Error in Cancer Misdiagnosis

Patients cannot expect doctors to know what is wrong without providing the types of information that can help lead to an accurate diagnosis. When you are visiting your physician, you should make sure to provide them with a complete list of whatever symptoms you have been experiencing.

Patients should also try to document their experiences as soon as they begin noticing symptoms. Writing this information down in a journal can be helpful not only for conveying information to doctors but also to recall specifics later on when necessary.

People need to make sure that they know their own medical history. This includes knowing all prescription medications you have been prescribed and what amounts you are currently taking.

It is important for patients to make sure that they ask the right questions during their medical visits. If a physician does not provide a differential diagnosis, which is a list of all possible diseases or disorders that might be the cause of your symptoms, you should ask for one.

Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification when you don’t understand your physician, and don’t question yourself if you suspect that your illness may have been misdiagnosed.

Faulty Equipment in Cancer Misdiagnosis

Numerous types of equipment may be used by a physician while screening for cancer.

An endoscopic biopsy may be performed with an endoscope, a lighted tube that can examine areas inside your body. Other biopsy procedures may involve needles to withdraw fluid and blood samples for liquid biopsies, skin samples being cut off for skin biopsies, or parts of tumors being removed through surgical biopsies. Biopsies rely on imaging tests, and doctors make use of several different kinds of such tests.

An X-ray takes pictures of the inside of the body, and a computed tomography scan (CT scan or CAT scan) involves images of the organs taken with an X-ray. An ultrasound involves sound waves while magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) involves magnets and a computer being used to collect images of the inside of the body.

A nuclear scan involves an injection of radioactive material. A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is a type of nuclear scan. Other types of diagnostic testing include:

  • Angiography
  • Anoscopy
  • Bone Scan
  • Bronchoscopy
  • CA-125 Test
  • Colonoscopy
  • Computed Tomography Scan
  • Dexa Scan
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Lumbar Puncture
  • Mammography
  • Navigational Bronchoscopy
  • Pelvic Exam
  • Radiofrequency Ablation
  • Tumor Molecular Profiling
  • Video Capsule Endoscopy

The equipment that is used to conduct these types of tests needs to be regularly maintained to ensure that it is in proper working order. Misdiagnoses that are the result of equipment issues could be the fault of the health care provider for not properly maintaining the equipment, or they may be the fault of the equipment manufacturers if the equipment malfunctioned or was defective.

Lack of Knowledge in Cancer Misdiagnosis

Many doctors make concerted efforts to stay informed on the latest developments in cancer research. Despite these attempts to stay informed, the truth remains that many physicians simply do not have a full understanding of all possible cancer symptoms.

This lack of knowledge can often create problems when doctors misinterpret cancer symptoms as being symptoms of other diseases. It is often a failure to understand the possibility of a symptom being cancer-related that leads to a misdiagnosis.

Another way that insufficient knowledge of cancer can lead to a misdiagnosis concerns how a doctor interprets test results. A physician may misinterpret or completely miss certain signs of cancer in these tests.

Cancer Statistics by Type of Cancer

The American Cancer Society reported the following estimated numbers of new cancer cases in 2018, with the number of deaths in parentheses:

  • Tongue — 17,110 (2,510)
  • Mouth — 13,580 (2,650)
  • Pharynx — 17,590 (3,230)
  • Other oral cavity — 3,260 (1,640)
  • Esophagus — 17,290 (15,850)
  • Stomach — 26,240 (10,800)
  • Small intestine — 10,470 (1,450)
  • Colon — 97,220 (50,630)
  • Rectum — 43,030 (N/A)
  • Anus, anal canal, & anorectum — 8,580 (1,160)
  • Liver & intrahepatic bile duct — 42,220 (30,200)
  • Gallbladder & other biliary — 12,190 (3,790)
  • Pancreas — 55,440 (44,330)
  • Other digestive organs — 6,480 (2,610)
  • Larynx — 13,150 (3,710)
  • Lung & bronchus — 234,030 (154,050)
  • Other respiratory organs — 6,110 (1,010)
  • Bones & joints — 3,450 (1,590)
  • Soft tissue (including heart) — 13,040 (5,150)
  • Melanoma of the skin — 91,270 (9,320)
  • Other nonepithelial skin — 8,280 (4,140)
  • Breast —268,670 (41,400)
  • Uterine cervix — 13,240 (4,170)
  • Uterine corpus — 63,230 (11,350)
  • Ovary — 22,240 (14,070)
  • Vulva — 6,190 (1,200)
  • Vagina & other genital, female — 5,170 (1,330)
  • Prostate — 164,690 (29,430)
  • Testis — 9,310 (400)
  • Penis & other genital, male — 2,320 (380)
  • Urinary bladder — 81,190 (17,240)
  • Kidney & renal pelvis — 65,340 (14,970)
  • Ureter & other urinary organs — 3,820 (960)
  • Eye & orbit — 3,540 (350)
  • Brain & other nervous system — 23,880 (16,830)
  • Thyroid — 53,990 (2,060)
  • Other endocrine — 2,440 (1,020)
  • Hodgkin lymphoma — 8,500 (1,050)
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma — 74,680 (19,910)
  • Myeloma — 30,770 (12,770)
  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia — 5,960 (1,470)
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia — 20,940 (4,510)
  • Acute myeloid leukemia — 19,520 (10,670)
  • Chronic myeloid leukemia — 8,430 (1,090)
  • Other leukemia — 5,450 (6,630)
  • Other & unspecified primary sites — 31,810 (44,560)

ABC News reported that researchers at The Johns Hopkins Hospital found 1 out of every 71 cases was misdiagnosed and as many as 1 out of 5 cancer cases was misclassified when they reviewed tissue samples from 6,000 cancer patients.

What Can We Learn from Cancer Misdiagnosis Statistics?

Unfortunately, negligence on the part of a medical professional can lead to delayed or missed cancer diagnosis, or even a “false-positive” misdiagnosis. When this happens, you may have the right to take legal action to hold the heathcare provider accountable.

The Law Offices of Dr. Michael M. Wilson, M.D., J.D. & Associates has recovered more than $100 million for its clients, and we’re ready to get to work on your case. We know how serious missed cancer diagnosis cases are and how many lives they impact. We have the knowledge and experience you need on your side to seek the justice that you and your family deserve.

Contact us by calling us or reaching out to us online to set up a free consultation.

Get A Free Case Consultation

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Our Location

1050 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.

Suite 500

Washington, D.C. 20036


Get Directions