With approximately 160,000 deaths estimated with each passing year, 1 out of 4 cancer deaths is attributable to lung cancer, making it the leading cause of death from cancer in the United States. More people die from lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. For as common as this cancer is in men and women alike, it is difficult to diagnose. Symptoms are often not apparent until the later stages of the illness and diagnostic procedures are not always accurate. These two factors have led to lung cancer to being the fourth most misdiagnosed cancer.
Misdiagnosis and Missed Diagnosis of Lung Cancer
Symptoms of lung cancer are not always centered on breathing and the lungs, and symptoms generally do not appear until the later stages of the disease. If your doctor does not administer the correct tests to pinpoint the source of discomfort, then you may be at risk for a misdiagnosis, or when the physician diagnoses the wrong illness during the examination. A misdiagnosed illness can lead to the patient receiving unnecessary treatment that is harmful to the body, or no treatment at all. Both instances can have a fatal outcome. Pneumonia and tuberculosis are common illnesses confused with lung cancer.
A lung cancer diagnosis could be missed completely if doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals fail to detect any sort of medical abnormality in the first place, resulting in a missed diagnosis. When it comes to diagnosing cancer, timing is absolutely essential to increase chances of survival. Cancer that is left untreated will spread to other organs in the body and by the time it is detected, it may be too difficult to begin treatment that would be remotely effective. This can lead to more serious treatments like surgery, which can be risky.
What is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer is a type of cancer that originates in the lungs and spreads to other organs in the body. Abnormal cells in the lung begin to cluster together and grow at an uncontrollable rate, developing into tumors that destroy the healthy tissue that surrounds the lungs. As the cancerous cells grow and multiply, they spread to other nearby organs through the bloodstream or the lymph, which is a natural fluid surrounding the lung tissue.
Signs and Symptoms – What Your Doctor Should Look For
Despite the fact lung cancer deaths account for the most deaths attributed to cancer, lung cancer can be difficult to detect early because many don’t experience symptoms until the later stages of the diseases. Additionally, common symptoms of lung cancer can be easily overlooked as something benign, further delaying an accurate diagnosis.
The following are common symptoms of lung cancer identified by the American Lung Association:
- Persistent Cough or a chronic cough (i.e., smoker’s cough)
- Wheezing and shortness of breath
- Persistent chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Frequent lung infections (ex. bronchitis, pneumonia
Since lung cancer can easily spread to other organs in the body, symptoms may appear in those areas first. These symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Bone pain or fractures
- Blood clots
Diagnosing Lung Cancer – Did Your Doctor Run the Correct Tests?
With close to the 3,000 cases of lung cancer misdiagnosed each year, many victims will learn of their cancer when it is too late to receive effective treatment. Symptoms, which usually appear at the later stages of cancer, may be confused with other conditions, further delaying the diagnosis. These conditions include: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and sarcoidosis.
The first step into diagnosing lung cancer is to have your doctor thoroughly examine your medical history and any symptoms you may be experiencing. Your doctor will then listen to your lung to check for breathing that could indicate an abnormality.
The following are common and effective tests used in determining a lung cancer diagnosis, according to the American Lung Association:
CT Scans, PET Scans, and bone scans are imaging techniques that can provide inner images of the body that may reveal a mass or tumor in the lungs. If there is a mass, your doctor will then perform a further analysis such as a biopsy.
This common procedure is used to remove small pieces of tissue to be examined under a microscope. Different types of biopsies performed may be contingent upon initial symptoms and what earlier imaging tests revealed. The following are common biopsy procedures:
- Endobronchial Ultrasound
- Endoscopic Esophageal Ultrasound
- Fine Needle Biopsy
- Mediastinoscopy and mediastinotomy
- Sputum Cytology
Lung cancer symptoms and even some tests might not reveal am initial malignancy. By administering multiple lung cancer tests, doctors should be able to rule out other diseases or infections. In some cases, it is possible for the doctor administer the correct test, but to misread the diagnosis or miss an irregularity, resulting in a misdiagnosis or even a missed diagnosis.
Treatment – Did Your Doctor Explain Your Options?
There are many different treatment options for lung cancer. Determining which treatment option is best relies largely upon the stage of lung cancer, but scientists and researchers also rely on genomic testing for personalized medicine. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are the most common treatments for lung cancer; however, treatments are determined by stage and type of cancer. For example, early stages of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer are typically curable with surgery, while Small Cell Lung Cancer patients will be treated with chemotherapy, as long as he/she is healthy enough. If your doctor fails to diagnose your malignancy correctly, you could receive unnecessary treatment like chemotherapy or surgery that could end up putting the body further into jeopardy.
The following are chemotherapy treatments for lung cancer:
- Carboplatn (Paraplatin) or Cisplatin (Platinol)
- Docetaxel (Docefrez, Taxotere)
- Gemcitabine (Gemzar)
- Nab-paclitaxel (Texol)
- Pemetrexed (Altima)
- Vinorelbine (Navelbine)
Chemotherapy, when effective can kill leftover cancer cells, shrink tumors, or even relieve symptoms. Its versatility allows it to be used at different points during the treatment.
Radiation treatments are sometimes used in conjunction with surgery to help kill cancerous cell that surgery may have missed. Common radiation treatments for lung cancer patients are as follows:
- External Beam Radiation
- Intensity Modulation Radiation Therapy
- Stereotactic Radiosurgery
Surgery can be effective in many cases of lung cancer, but only if it is absolutely necessary. Unnecessary surgical procedures run the risk of opening up the lung to further infection or putting the patient in danger of a surgical mistake. The following are common surgical procedures for treating lung cancer:
- Lobectomy – an entire lobe of the lung is removed
- Segmentectomy – portions of the lung containing the cancer is removed
- Wedge Resection – the “wedge-shaped” part of the lung tissue and its surrounding tumor is removed
- Pneumonectomy – the removal of the entire lung
Each one of these surgical procedures is dependent upon the stage of the cancer, and where the cancer is located. For instance, a pneumonectomy, the most extreme surgery, occurs when the cancer is too close to the center of the chest, while a lobectomy is performed when the cancer is able to be removed by just removing a lobe. Performing a more complicated surgical procedure when only a slightly invasive procedure is required can have detrimental and lasting health complications.
Lung cancer is a time sensitive illness and a failure to diagnose or a misdiagnosis of can be a fatal mistake. Undetected cancer may spread while the patient is taking unnecessary or even harmful treatment. As long as the cancer remains undetected or misdiagnosed, it will worsen; decreasing chances for survival and increasing the chances of needing a more risky and dramatic treatment such as surgery.
It is the duty of the medical professional or technician to uphold a standard of care by considering all symptoms experienced by the patient, administering multiple kinds of tests, and investigating all possibilities into alternative diagnoses. When you are ill, it is only natural to become physically and emotionally vulnerable and place your trust in physicians who are supposed to help you and make your health a priority.
See if you can answer the following questions to determine if you are a victim of a misdiagnosis/missed diagnosis of lung cancer:
- What tests were administered? Did your doctor explain why that test was done?
- Was the cancer detected in any other parts of the body? Did the doctor test for that?
- Were symptoms similar to other non-malignancies?
- Were you informed of the severity of the cancer? (what stage)
- Where there other tests should have been done?
- How do I know if my test results are accurate?
- Am I being treated for the right condition?
- Were my lab tests sent to another facility?
- Where was that facility located?
- How do I know if the information was relayed back correctly?