If you or a loved one have ever received a cancer diagnosis, then you likely understand that it’s not the oncologist who diagnoses someone as having cancer, but instead the pathologist that you’re likely to never meet.
The oncologist merely plays the role of messenger, relaying the results of your biopsy to you. It’s the pathologist that takes your sample, carefully studies it under a microscope and determines whether a mass is either malignant or benign. The role of the oncologist is to tell you about different treatment options and to hopefully get you started with one of them so that return to being more like yourself once again.
With so much riding on what determination the pathologist makes, it causes many to wonder just how accurate their diagnoses generally are.
Researchers working on a study recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine set out to learn more about the efficacy of pathologist diagnoses. To do so, they sent various breast biopsy slides analyzed by their hospitals to 110 other pathologists across the country in different states. They hoped to see whether the pathologist’s conclusions would be similar.
As for cases in which patients were ultimately diagnosed as having cancer, both sets of pathologists were in agreement as to the diagnosis in at least 96 percent of all cases.
In cases where patients were told they were cancer free, the pathologists were only in agreement with one another in 87 percent of those cases. In the remaining 13 percent of cases, the secondary pathologists determined that patients were misled and that their tumor was cancerous instead.
Biopsied masses that had originally been diagnosed as being atypias, or comprised of abnormal cells, were found to be the same by the secondary pathologists in less than 50 percent of all cases.
In 17 percent of the cases, women were told that their condition was far more serious than it actually was. This likely led to an oncologist recommending a much more aggressive type of treatment regimen than the patient actually needed. In another 35 percent of those cases, women were told they were fine and thus received no further treatment.
If you’re concerned that your biopsied mass was misdiagnosed by a pathologist resulting in either too aggressive or delayed care, then a Chicago medical malpractice attorney can advise you of your rights.