Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis is Leading Cause of Malpractice for Radiologists

According to a new study, the most common cause of medical malpractice lawsuits filed against radiologists is the misdiagnosis of breast cancer. That error accounted for the majority of cases in a study that was published in Radiology, a medical journal.

The researchers studied 4,793 medical malpractice lawsuits naming 2,680 radiologists as defendants. Most of the lawsuits claimed that the radiologist did not detect visible lesions in mammograms and therefore failed to recommend further testing for breast cancer. Failure to test for breast cancer early on allows it to spread through the body untreated, making the cancer less responsive to later treatment.

Another common cause of medical malpractice lawsuits against radiologists is a failure of communication with the physician treating the patient. Often the treating physician detects lesions and refers the patient to a radiologist, but does not communicate the fact that he or she has already detected lesions; thus, the radiologist may fail to detect the lesions through mammography scans and may therefore fail to recommend follow-up tests.

The study comes at a time when breast cancer diagnoses are on the rise. The rates of metastatic breast cancer – in which the cancer spreads to other parts of the body – have risen 3.6 percent per year in the last decade for women age 25 to 39, according to the American Medical Association (AMA).

Early diagnosis of breast cancer is particularly important, because by the time lumps in the breast are detectable, the cancer has usually spread to other parts of the body, making it less likely that treatment will be effective, according to the American Cancer Society.

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