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ABC News reported recently that a woman had a biopsy in 2006 and was soon diagnosed with breast cancer. Like many other women in North Adams and across the country, she had the choice to have a mastectomy or treat the cancer through other methods. The woman, whose mother and sister had breast cancer, chose to have a double mastectomy. However, she later found out that the doctors had misdiagnosed her: she never had cancer in the first place.

Misdiagnosing breast cancer happens more often than someone might think. Johns Hopkins Hospital researchers collected 6,000 tissues from people who were diagnosed with cancer. After reviewing the samples, they determined that one in 71 people had been misdiagnosed or misclassified.

In 2012, the National Coalition on Health Care and Best Doctors, Inc., conducted a survey that found that doctors believe that breast cancer is the second most commonly mischaracterized or misdiagnosed cancer. Doctors may sometimes assume that the lump is a cyst, a blocked milk duct or fibrocystic. The physicians who participated noted that better pathology tools and genetic testing would be beneficial in making accurate diagnoses.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time when people are reminded to perform self-exams and get mammograms. The National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc., encourages people to make an early detection plan that include the following:

  • Learning about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer
  • Performing a self-exam
  • Having a clinical breast exam
  • Scheduling a mammogram

One in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. The National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc., states that catching it early and avoiding delayed treatment leads to a five-year survival rate of 98 percent. That gives even more reason for people to remain vigilant in spotting the signs, and illustrates the necessity accurate professional assessments.

Source: ABC News, “The Misdiagnosis of Breast Cancer,” March 7, 2013