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New Study Shows Cancer Misdiagnosis is Not Uncommon

Published on May 21, 2015

According to, an estimated 1.3 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year. The person diagnosing cancer is usually a pathologist who analyzes patient’s tissue in a lab, but has never met the patient in person. When researchers at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore reviewed tissue samples from 6,000 cancer patients across the country, they found that one in every 71 cases was misdiagnosed and up to one out of every five cancer cases were misclassified.

This is very scary news for people of all ages. A cancer misdiagnosis can result in unnecessary treatment, life-altering surgery, chemotherapy, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills.

For Frank Barerra, the mistake was caught just in time. He was 48-years-old when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He was about to have his prostate removed. The surgery was minutes away, the operating room was set, and his IV drip had begun when the call came in from the pathology department: there was a mistake. He did not have cancer. But not everyone is as “lucky” as Frank.

Jennifer Rufer was 22-years-old when she was told she had cancer. She underwent debilitating chemotherapy and a hysterectomy she did not need – all because of a pregnancy test showing very high HCG levels. But Jennifer was not pregnant. There was no fetus. Because of this, doctors concluded she may have a rare form of cancer called a gestational trophoblastic tumor. If left untreated, it can spread rapidly and kill. If treated early with chemotherapy, it is highly curable and it can save your life. Though tests never showed a tumor, doctors diagnosed Jennifer with cancer due to her high HCG levels and she started chemotherapy immediately.

It wasn’t until after countless doctor visits and tests, months of chemotherapy, and a hysterectomy that a stunning revelation came: the pregnancy test showing high levels of HCG, made by Abott Laboratories, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, was faulty.

Laurence Cole, a Yale University researcher who published an article about women who are misdiagnosed with cancer based on incorrect pregnancy tests, found that Jennifer is among 10 percent of the population whose blood contains natural substances that can interfere with lab tests and cause results that are false positives. ABCNews reports that, “No lab test is 100 percent perfect, and other companies that make pregnancy tests measuring HCG have also shown false positives. But Cole, who has become an expert witness in cases against Abbott, believes the company has a greater problem.”

Since April, Cole has confirmed 34 cases of faulty tests, 32 of which were measured exclusively or primarily with Abbott’s test. Abbott says this is due to their large market share.

Jennifer took her case to court where the jury decided Abbott’s test is not defective, but it did find Abbott negligent for failing to adequately warn doctors about false positives. Jennifer was awarded more than $16 million, half to come from the hospital and half from Abbott. Due to Jennifer’s hysterectomy, she is unable to have children on her own. Because of this, she plans to use some of the settlement to try and harvest her eggs and use a surrogate mother to carry a child for her.

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, the best thing you can do is get another opinion. Before seeing another doctor, be sure to research your symptoms, initial diagnosis and any other possibilities of what your ailment could be. Do not share this information with your second doctor until you have received a diagnosis from him or her.

When receiving a diagnosis, always ask if there’s anything else it could be. Take notes on what his or her response is, as you’ll want to conduct additional research on these things later. At the end, feel free to share with this doctor what your first doctor’s diagnosis was and get his/her opinion on that. If the diagnosis a second time differs from the first, Knapp & Roberts always recommends getting a third opinion, as well. Even if the diagnosis is the same, it may be worth a third visit if the diagnosis doesn’t sound right to you. Remember: when it comes to your health, the time and money spent for a third doctor’s visit is well worth it.

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