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Why are people sometimes mistakenly diagnosed with cancer?

If given the choice between having your doctor erroneously tell you that you don't have cancer when you do and being given a cancer diagnosis in error, most people would choose the latter. Certainly, it's dangerous for cancer to go undiagnosed and untreated -- perhaps until it's too late. However, being told you have cancer and undergoing unnecessary treatment can be emotionally, physically and financially harmful as well.

Patients mistakenly diagnosed with cancer may undergo unnecessary surgery as well as radiation, chemotherapy treatments and other debilitating and invasive treatments. For example, one woman who was erroneously diagnosed with breast cancer chose to have a double mastectomy.

The chances of being mistakenly diagnosed with cancer are slim -- anywhere from under 2 percent to as much as 10 percent according to various studies. However, those numbers reflect thousands of people.

The error is usually made in the lab that determines whether a tissue sample contains cancer. A doctor with the American Cancer Society notes that reviewing biopsies can be "a very subjective mission in which six pathologists may look at the same tissue sample and each comes up with a different answer on whether it is cancer or not, or the stage of the cancer."

However, he notes that these errors often happen because a biopsy is mislabeled by people in the lab or a patient gets someone else's test result. Another reason why some lab results aren't accurate is that pathologists aren't always knowledgeable about the particular type of cancer they're testing for.

Some medical experts recommend that patients ask for a second opinion on all pathology lab tests. However, not all insurance plans cover second opinions.

If you were wrongly diagnosed with cancer, your first reaction to learning the truth may be relief. However, you may have undergone unnecessary and possibly life-altering surgery and debilitating treatments, costing many thousands of dollars. You may have another medical condition that went untreated. It's wise to determine what your legal options are for seeking compensation for your expenses as well as your pain and suffering.

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