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Breast cancer is still commonly misdiagnosed

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month - the time of year when products suddenly turn pink. The objective is to raise awareness of breast cancer and encourage women to get preventive breast cancer screenings. It is also a reminder to younger women to conduct self-examinations and see a physician if they detect anything unusual.

When should women have breast cancer screenings?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends women aged 50-74 have a mammogram every two years. Women whose risk for getting breast cancer is average get the most benefit from having a mammogram during this period.

Women aged 40-49 should base their decision on whether to have a mammogram on personal risk and preference. Women with a higher-than-average risk of getting breast cancer, as well as those who feel a change in their breasts, should be screened as soon as possible after the anomaly is detected regardless of age.

When breast cancer is missed

Cancer Network reports breast cancer misdiagnosis as the most frequent reason for malpractice lawsuits. Misdiagnosis comes in the form of false-positives, false-negatives, or simply a complete lack of testing. False-negatives are the third most common diagnostic errors among OB-GYNs, radiologists, internists and others.

If your mammogram came back "negative," but a lump was detected during a self or doctor examination, your doctor should be ordering further testing. While it is true that mammograms are considered the gold standard for detecting breast cancer, they should be accompanied by ultrasounds if there is any doubt. Furthermore, the only sure way to positively identify a lump as cancer is through needle biopsy.

What to do if you doubt the results of your mammogram

Women who detect anomalies and/or are at above-average risk for breast cancer may have doubts about the results of their mammograms. If, ultimately, your physician doesn't pursue further testing and cancer turns out to be present, you may have legal recourse. Even a tiny mass at the age of 30 can become late-stage breast cancer later in life. If you have a high risk for breast cancer, your doctor should suggest genetic testing.

A delayed diagnosis of breast cancer can be devastating. However, you shouldn't consider yourself at fault if you think your cancer could've been detected early. See a physician you trust, be honest and thorough with him regarding your family history, and request additional testing when necessary. Don't let your rational concerns be brushed aside; you have the right to seek medical attention - or legal advice - when warranted.

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