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Missing a breast cancer diagnosis is unforgivable

Don't hesitate to get a second opinion

in Consumer & the Law by Anne Shortall on
Missing a breast cancer diagnosis is unforgivable

I have been practicing medical law for more than two decades and I am still shocked every time someone comes to me alleging their doctor missed a cancer diagnosis. 

It is unforgivable and should not happen. The incidence and severity of breast cancer is thrust into our faces every day, when we turn on a television or radio, open up a newspaper, when we watch sport and when our kids play it. 

The awareness around this hideous disease is prolific and has directly and positively influenced the number of women receiving regular mammograms. 

So when women visit a doctor, they rightly expect to receive the best possible care. 

There should be no trick to testing for breast cancer. With the technology we have available today, missing a tumour is like a footballer missing a goal from one metre out. 

Over the past few months I have spoken to five women and the sister of another whose breast cancer diagnosis was missed. 

Each story is different but each shares similar details. 

Either the doctor didn’t do the right test, the test was not comprehensive or the test was incorrectly reviewed. 

The last of these three is particularly concerning. If it is true, this alleged breast cancer expert was unable to competently look at a scan and identify a tumour – how can we expect women to trust the information they receive? 

In short, they shouldn’t. 

And what is particularly tragic is that many of the women I am seeing are mothers with young children whose lives may or will be cut short as a result of the delay.

Whether it’s breast cancer, heart disease or even skin disorders, if a patient feels like the treatment they have received is not right, they should never hesitate in getting a second opinion. 

At the time, the thought of going to another doctor might seem like you're overdoing it, but it really could mean the difference between life and death as I have seen in recent cases. 

Anne Shortall 
Principal Lawyer, Medical Negligence 
Slater and Gordon