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Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis Less Likely With Second Opinion

A new study suggests that seeking a second opinion from a cancer specialist helps reduce the risk of a breast cancer misdiagnosis, and in fact, often leads to a change in the recommended course of treatment.

Researchers at the University of Michigan examined cancer diagnoses and treatment recommendations for 149 women. All of the study participants were referred by the doctor who gave the initial diagnosis to a cancer specialist for a second opinion.

Differing Interpretations

The cancer specialists reviewed mammograms, X-rays, and biopsy results and offered differing opinions for 45 percent of the patients. Interpretations differed on everything from diagnoses to treatment plans.

Of the 149 participants, six were found to have no cancer at all after a second opinion. Another six were found to have residual cancer where a tumor had previously been removed. One patient had her diagnosis upgraded from benign to invasive cancer, and two others from noninvasive to invasive.

Second opinions on mammograms and X-rays resulted in a change in treatment plan in 11 percent of the patients and for an additional nine percent with reinterpretations of biopsy results.

Two Radiologists are Better than One

Senior author of the paper, Dr. Michael S. Sabel, admitted that the numbers surprised him. But, he added, “a lot of it just has to do with having a second pair of eyes. Having two radiologists read a mammogram is better than one.”

The study seems to reinforce the need for a multidisciplinary approach when it comes to cancer diagnosis, said Dr. Eileen Rakovitch, an assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of Toronto.

“When [patients] are seen by a team of specialists, patients at a lower risk may receive less aggressive treatment, and patients deemed at higher risk may get more aggressive treatments,” she said.

In fact, the study’s findings showed that two patients who were recommended for breast conservation surgery would fare better with mastectomy, and five other patients who were recommended for mastectomy were ideal candidates for breast conservation.

“When a person sees only one specialist, they’re only exposed to treatments within that person’s realm of expertise. Knowledge takes time to diffuse, especially across specialties,” added Dr. Rakovitch.

Dr. Hiram S. Cody III of the breast service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York agreed with the study’s findings.

“This is a very nice paper and very well done. The message here is that when a patient has a cancer diagnosis, getting a second opinion is very good bang for the buck,” he said.

The paper is published in the November 15th issue of the journal Cancer.

Victim of breast cancer misdiagnosis? Please contact us to learn more about recovering your losses through a medical malpractice lawsuit.


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