Reportedly, an Australian patient has been treated with chemotherapy for six months before it’s been discovered by the doctors that she actually didn’t suffer from cancer. But, believe it or not, this kind of mistake often occurs, even more than the medical system is willing to admit.
In this particular case, the woman did have a tumor which was removed three years before she was mistakenly given chemo. When she went for a review, after a CT scan her surgeon diagnosed her with stage 4 liver cancer. But, what her oncologist failed to do are tests to confirm the diagnosis and went ahead with chemotherapy, reported ABC News Australia.
According to a report from November 2016, the anonymous woman received the six months of unnecessary chemo treatments in 2014-2015.
“This is a devastating case,” said the Australian Labor Party Health Spokesman Walt Secord to the Australian station. “Chemotherapy patients have nausea, they lose their hair, their toenails, they lose their appetite.”
When the supposed cancer did not react to the treatment, the doctors finally decided to do the needed testing. The results showed that the tumor was in fact benign and that chemo wasn’t needed at all. Still, the woman was exposed to the most dangerous and side effect-ridden treatment.
But, it’s not only the returning cancers that get misdiagnosed. According to reviews, a shockingly large percentage of several different cancers are misdiagnosed completely, largely due to tests that cause overdiagnosis.
1.3 Million Women Over-diagnosed with Breast Cancer
One of the most responsible factors for overdiagnosis is screening mammography. According to a data review study from The New England Journal of Medicine, 1.3 million women in the U.S., over the age of 40, were over-diagnosed with breast cancer in the last 30 years. Only in 2008, 70,000 women were over-diagnosed, meaning their tumors weren’t necessarily malignant. A total of 31% of all breast cancer diagnoses that year were due to over-diagnosis.
50-90% of Thyroid Cancers are Overdiagnosed
According to a report from the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found out the growing thyroid cancer epidemic is due to overdiagnosis of the disease. Up to 90% of the thyroid tumors discovered in patients in high-income countries are likely to never lead to any symptoms during their lifetime.
The as many as 90% of all patients “The majority of the over-diagnosed thyroid cancer cases undergo total thyroidectomy and frequently other harmful treatments, like neck lymph node dissection and radiotherapy, without proven benefits in terms of improved survival,”said Dr. Silvia Franceschi, one of the authors of the article “Cancer Incidence in Five Continents.”
According to statistics, up to 80% of thyroid cancers in the U.S. may be overdiagnosed. Source: “Current Thyroid Cancer Trends in the United States,” JAMA Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery, Feb. 20, 2014
Most of the overdiagnosis cases happen in the Republic of Korea, up to 90%, while in the U.S., this percentage is between 70-80%. Similar numbers were observed in Australia, France, and Italy. In the Nordic countries, and England and Scotland, about 50% are overdiagnosed.
“Countries such as the USA, Italy, and France have been most severely affected by overdiagnosis of thyroid cancer since the 1980s, after the introduction of ultrasonography,” said Dr. Salvatore Vaccarella, the IARC staff scientist.
Overdiagnosis in Other Cancers
- Prostate 60%
- Skin 90%
- Lung 18%
The List of Patients Who Fall Victim to Misdiagnosis and Overdiagnosis Grows Each Year
Misdiagnosis happens when the pathologist finds benign cells but classifies them as cancerous. Overdiagnosis is when a screening finds a tumor that would not be found by other tests, is likely to not have caused any symptoms, or be harmful during the person’s lifetime.
Both are harmful towards the patients’ health because they have to go through unnecessary toxic treatments and surgeries they never needed.
Two women in Australia (a 60-year old and a 25-year-old) had their breasts removed unnecessarily when misdiagnosed by the same pathologist.
A 54-year-old was misdiagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in Houston. The doctors caught the error only after a procedure to remove a “tumor” from her left breast and seven months of chemotherapy.
For doctors, misdiagnosis is not a reason for someone to be fired.
“If someone makes a mistake we don’t always fire them. If we did that we wouldn’t have any staff,” said Dr. Charles Pain, executive director of medical services at Top End Health Service (TEHS), which oversees the hospitals the women were treated at.
But, there are cases when misdiagnosis is done deliberately, hurting hundreds of patients. Such is the case of Dr. Farid Fata who knowingly misdiagnosed a total of 553 people in order to push treatments they did not need (chemotherapy drugs are the only type of drugs that give doctors direct pay bonuses).