Errors in Cancer Diagnosis Common, Often Harmful | DC Metro Area Medical Malpractice Law Blog

“In a review of cytologic-histologic specimen pairs, errors in cancer diagnosis were seen in up to 11.8% of cases, according to a report in the November 15th issue of Cancer. Moreover, in a substantial proportion of cases, the error caused some degree of harm for the patient.”

The authors evaluated diagnostic errors in patients who were seen at one of four hospitals in 2002 for a cancer work-up. The frequency of errors varied between hospitals and had a significant range. As for the cause of errors, up to 50% were due to pathologic misinterpretation with the remainder being due to poor tissue sampling. The assigned clinical impact of the error was closely associated with the institution. However, it appeared that up to 45% of errors resulted in harm to the patient. Such harm ranged from further unnecessary noninvasive diagnostic tests to loss of life or limb.

“It is exceedingly difficult to measure the true frequency of errors in cancer diagnosis because of the variety of detection methods used, bias, and the inability of institutions to secondarily review large case volumes,” the authors state.

“As part of a multi-institutional, national effort to improve practice, we are in the process of standardizing methods, decreasing bias by sharing cases and data among institutions, and establishing more accurate error frequencies by detecting errors using multiple methods,” they add.

The full story was reported in Cancer 2005. This story was also featured in