Catching Cancer: Patients Must Trust Their Instincts and Advocate For Themselves

By: Stephan D. Blandin, Founding Partner, Romanucci & Blandin

Recently “The Home Edit” star Clea Shearer bravely announced she has aggressive breast cancer, and a shock for anyone, even more so because she was younger than 40. Shearer said she had been asked repeatedly for an appointment with her OBGYN after finding a lump but could not get an appointment, so she refused to let her concerns wait and asked her primary care doctor to order the mammogram that led to her diagnosis. Her Stage 2 diagnosis of course, if delayed any further could’ve been far more dangerous. Shearer was fortunate to have self-detected her lump, and her fierce self-advocacy may have saved her life.  She had a double mastectomy in April of 2022 and her treatment continues.

Shearer’s experience highlights an important issue for the R&B legal team that advocates for clients whose cancer has not been diagnosed in a timely manner.  According to the National Academy of Medicine: “Most people will experience at least one diagnostic error in their lifetime, sometimes with devastating consequences.”[1] Furthermore, it is believed that diagnostic errors could occur at rates as high as 10%- 15% for every diagnoses made.[2] Cancer can be particularly high on this scale with lung cancer being misdiagnosed 22.5% and breast cancer at 8.9%.[3]

There are numerous reasons that a delayed or misdiagnosis can happen, including specialists and staff not using their equipment properly – or not using it at all.

This situation was part of a tragic late diagnosis for one of our clients, a 37-year-old mother had lumps in left breast and armpit and a history of breast cancer. The health system failed to diagnose it for two years, missing valuable opportunities to do a needle biopsy – the gold standards in diagnosis of breast cancer – leading to her death, leaving two young children behind.

Another reason for late or missed diagnoses can be that doctors do not get enough time with their patients. The current U.S. health system often puts pressure on doctors to see more patients because of the financial incentives. This over scheduling and physician fatigue can have deadly consequences.

A cancer misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis compounds and complicates what is already a major life altering event. One valuable way to reduce the risk of a delayed diagnosis is, like Clea Shearer, to be your own biggest advocate. Trust your instincts if you feel something needs attention, and insist your health be taken seriously even when others may not.

If you or someone you know had a cancer diagnosis delayed or had cancer misdiagnosed, Romanucci & Blandin offers initial consultations that are free and confidential. For more information, on cancer misdiagnosis cases, click here.

 

[1] Balogh, E., et al. (2013). Improving diagnosis in health care, The National Academies Press, https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/21794/improving-diagnosis-in-health-care

[2] Graber ML, (2013) The incidence of diagnostic error in medicine, BMJ Quality & Safety 2013. https://qualitysafety.bmj.com/content/22/Suppl_2/ii21

[3] Newman-Toker, D., et al. (2021). Rate of diagnostic errors and serious misdiagnosis-related harms for major vascular events, infections, and cancers: toward a national incidence estimate using the “Big Three”. Diagnosis, 8(1), 67-84. https://doi.org/10.1515/dx-2019-0104