Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among U.S. women, after skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about one in eight women in the country will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetimes.
In an average year, an estimated 232,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be reported, and about 62,570 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 40,000 U.S. women will die this year from this disease.
Death rates from breast cancer have been declining since 1989, with larger decreases in women younger than 50. The decrease is largely attributed to earlier detection through screening and increased awareness of the disease, as well as improved medical treatments. Nonetheless, medical providers continue to misdiagnose or delay the diagnosis of breast cancer, which can allow the cancer to worsen and even lead to death.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a kind of cancer that develops from breast cells, and usually starts in the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply them with milk. It tends to afflict more women over the age of 40. The primary types of breast cancer are:
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): DCIS is a non-invasive breast cancer. The cells that line a milk duct in the breast change to look like cancer cells, but haven’t spread through the walls of the duct into surrounding breast tissue. About one in five new breast cancer cases is DCIS.
- Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC): IDC is the most common type of breast cancer. It starts in a milk duct, breaks through the wall of the duct, and grows into the fatty tissue of the breast. IDC can spread to other parts of the body though the bloodstream or lymphatic system. About eight of 10 invasive breast cancers are IDC.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC): ILC starts in the milk producing glands (lobules) and can spread to other parts of the body. ILC constitutes about one of 10 invasive breast cancers.
Less common types of breast cancer are:
- Inflammatory breast cancer: This type of cancer is caused by cancer cells blocking lymph vessels in the skin, and is usually not associated with a single lump or tumor. The skin of a breast may be reddish and warm, and may have a thick, pitted appearance like an orange peel. The affected breast may become larger, firmer, tender, or itchy.
- Triple-negative breast cancer: This cancer (usually IDC) involves cells that lack estrogen receptors and progesterone receptors. It tends to grow and spread more quickly than other breast cancers.
- Paget disease of the nipple: This cancer starts in breast ducts and spreads to the skin of the nipple and then to the areola (dark circle round the nipple). Only about 1 percent of all breast cancers involves this condition, and is usually associated with DCIS or IDC.
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
Medical professionals can detect breast cancer in a number of ways. A physician during an exam may detect lumps in a breast, as can a woman on self-examination. A mammogram is a commonly used screening test that can detect tumors when they are smaller and less likely to spread. However, mammograms can miss some breast cancer tumors.
A radiologist assessing a mammogram result is looking for masses in the breast. Some masses are benign solid cysts or cysts filled with fluid. The size, shape and edges of the mass help the radiologist determine if cancer is present. Any mass that is not a cyst should be biopsied to rule out cancer, since a mammogram itself cannot determine whether an abnormal growth is cancer. An ultrasound can also be conducted to determine if a mass is a cyst or a tumor. An MRI scan is useful for women with dense breasts (i.e., breasts that are more glandular and have more fibrous tissue than fatty tissue).
What causes a misdiagnosed breast cancer or a failure to diagnose breast cancer?
A variety of missteps by medical professionals can cause the failure to diagnose breast cancer, including:
- Failure to acquire detailed family and medical history related to breast cancer
- Failure to document key information regarding new clinical problems
- Failure to follow clinical guidelines for determining if breast cancer is present
- Narrow diagnostic focus leading to wrong assessments and treatment decisions
- Failure to order appropriate diagnostic tests and imaging, especially for younger women
- Delayed follow up assessments of breast abnormalities
- Inappropriate reassurance absent a biopsy that a breast mass is benign
- Relying only on a clinical examination or “negative” mammography report instead of ordering a biopsy
- Misdiagnosis of a breast lump, such as a “blocked milk duct” in a pregnant woman
- Misinterpretation of mammogram results
- Misinterpretation of biopsy results
- Poorly performed mammograms or biopsies
Failure to diagnose or misdiagnosed breast cancer: Potential consequences
As with other forms of cancer, misdiagnosed breast cancer or failure to diagnose breast cancer can allow the cancer to grow beyond localized abnormal cell growth and potentially spread beyond the breast, reducing the likelihood of survival and requiring more invasive treatments.Metastasizing breast cancer can form new tumors in nearby tissue, organs or bones. If diagnosed early, the five-year survival rate is 100 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute. The survival rate declines as the cancer becomes more invasive: Stage 2 (93 percent); Stage 3 (72 percent) and Stage 4 (22 percent).
The types and length of treatments depend on the stage of the cancer once diagnosed. Non-surgical treatments, such as radiation, hormonal therapy or immunotherapy, can be used in the earliest stages. Surgery is typically conducted when the cancer grows into a tumor. If the tumor is small enough, surgery can remove the lump (lumpectomy) followed by radiation. Larger tumors, or multiple tumors, usually require a mastectomy (complete removal of the breast). If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, those are typically removed as well. If the cancer has spread beyond the breast to distant organs (Stage 4), surgery is typically not an option, and chemotherapy is undertaken instead.
Did a failure to diagnose or misdiagnosed breast cancer increase my chance of death?
The law protects individuals who have suffered harm as a result of a delayed medical diagnosis, including the pain and suffering caused by extensive surgery and harsh treatments, and the increased likelihood of death. Powers & Santola, LLP., founded in 1987, has extensive experience handling delayed diagnosis legal cases, including those involving breast cancer. Our delayed cancer diagnosis attorneys have a long track record of obtaining on behalf of clients full and fair compensation for their pain and suffering. We are dedicated to providing outstanding legal services, which includes not only knowledge, talent, and experience, but also having the resources and commitment to fundamentally changing the lives of our clients for the better.
We devote our full attention and resources to a limited number of seriously injured clients. We make a commitment that our legal services will be dedicated to helping a client improve his or her life for the better, and making good on that commitment requires us to focus our skills, efforts and resources on helping a select group of clients.
We are here to help you find the answers to your questions. Call our delayed cancer diagnosis attorneys at 518.465.5995 or contact us online to discuss your legal rights concerning the delayed diagnosis of breast cancer.