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Study warns breast biopsy errors likely commonplace

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association strongly suggests that pathologists' readings of breast biopsies can often be imperfect. Of concern to women who are making decisions about breast cancer treatment was the finding that diagnosing precancerous cells is wrong almost half the time.

The study involved presenting 115 pathologists with 240 breast biopsies to read. Their diagnoses were compared to the results created by three experts. Although this test did not replicate real world situations in which pathologists consult with colleagues, it showed troubling inconsistencies.

In 13 percent of normal tissue samples, pathologists stated that suspicious cells were present. Mistakes labeling cancer as invasive when it was not also occurred. Pathologists had trouble diagnosing a precancerous form of breast disease called DCIS as well. The authors of the study said that their results indicate people should get a second opinion when receiving a cancer diagnosis. With so much possibility for error, people might be undergoing unnecessary treatment or not getting any when they do need it.

A failure to diagnose cancer might in some situations equal medical malpractice. A person who had their treatment delayed because of a missed diagnosis might choose to speak with an attorney to see if damages can be claimed. If records show that a physician failed in his or her duty to make thorough efforts to detect the disease, then a lawsuit might succeed in gaining the victim money for medical bills and other costs. An attorney might be able to help the person assess the evidence to see if physician negligence was present.

Source: CBS Boston, "Study: Biopsy Specialists Frequently Misdiagnose Breast Tissue," March 17, 2015

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