5 reasons doctors misdiagnose cancer

Why too many doctors are getting it wrong.

When cancer is waging a war on a person’s body and they’re doing everything possible to fight it, a prompt and accurate diagnosis can literally be the difference between life and death. So why do doctors continue to miss important warning signs and fail to properly diagnose cancer?

According to the New York Times, doctors misdiagnose about 28 percent of cancer patients – nearly three in 10. With the devastating harm that a missed diagnosis can cause, it is critical that we understand why diagnostic errors happen and work to prevent them. 

5 major causes of cancer misdiagnosis

  1. Brushing off symptoms – Many cancer symptoms are subtle, such as fatigue, constipation and unexpected weight loss are easily attributed to less serious conditions or even aging. When doctors choose not to investigate these symptoms, it can have disastrous effects.
  2. Making assumptions – Going hand in hand with the reason above, many doctors incorrectly assume that cancer is an older person’s disease. Many will not even consider the fact that a young, healthy adult may have it.
  3. Overspecialization – Doctors are encouraged to specialize more and more. This is great news for patients who need a specialist, but it can result in doctors lacking the broad base of knowledge they need to diagnose cancer in an area of the body outside their specialty.
  4. Not spending enough time with the patient – We’ve all been to the doctor’s office and waited for ages only to speak with a doctor for a few minutes. This means that doctors don’t always know their patients well enough to have a grasp of all relevant health history, which can compromise a diagnosis.
  5. Faulty tools and processes – Information systems, testing equipment and other tools are meant to make care better. However, they are not perfect. A malfunction or misinterpretation can sometimes cause a false or missed diagnosis.

In a future post, we’ll provide some tips and advice for minimizing your chances of a wrong diagnosis when you visit the doctor.