Why is it so common for doctors to initially misdiagnose cancer?

by | Aug 10, 2021 | Medical malpractice

Cancer comes in many different forms, but all cancer can be life-threatening if not quickly diagnosed and treated. Given how prevalent cancer is, you would think that doctors would always rule it out as a possible cause of patients’ symptoms before looking for other causes of symptoms.

Surprisingly, a large number of doctors fail to rule out cancer before deciding that someone has a minor infection or other condition. Unfortunately, that may mean the cancer becomes advanced or metastasizes and spread to other parts of the body before the doctor gives the patient an accurate diagnosis.

Why is it so common for doctors to misdiagnose cancer when a patient initially comes in reporting concerning symptoms?

Early cancer often produces relatively minor symptoms

Some of the signs people have of developing cancer seem so minor that anyone would overlook them. For example, some people lose a little weight. Others may notice changes in their sleep habits or that scrapes and bruises take longer to heal than they did before. For some people, a persistent cough or a headache is the first real symptom they experience.

The problem with these general, minor symptoms is that they could stem from hundreds of different medical conditions. A cough that has only been an issue for a week or two might seem more like a sign of seasonal allergies than the first sign of developing lung cancer.

While it’s easy to jump to conclusions, doctors have received specialized training to do the exact opposite. They should carefully rule out more serious medical conditions before they assume a symptom stems from something minor and easily treatable. Diagnosis takes time and money, and cutting corners can mean unfortunate consequences for the patient.

Understanding why cancer can go undiagnosed at first can help you fight back when a doctor fails in their responsibilities.