How to Handle a Cancer Misdiagnosis

Finding out that you have cancer can be overwhelming. Disbelief is common. Other emotions soon follow. Hearing that you’ve been misdiagnosed, though — that the cancer is not what your doctor first thought, and maybe not cancer at all — can be worse.

How It Happens

One of the reasons correctly diagnosing cancer is so difficult is that some cancers are harder to spot than others.

There are lots of reasons for this. Some forms of the disease are rare, so less attention is paid to them. And less is invested in learning how to diagnose and treat them. That makes mistakes more likely.

Sometimes, even with more common cancers, figuring out what’s cancer and what isn’t can be tricky. It can be hard to find cancer cells, or to figure out if a cell or group of cells is cancerous. That leads to pathologists — the people who examine blood and tissue under a microscope — seeing cancer where there’s none, or seeing none when it’s there.

Likewise, some infections can appear like lung cancer when seen on an X-ray.

Whatever the reason, misdiagnosis can lead to economic strain and it can be harmful to you. This is especially true if the mistake delays proper treatment.

What If It Happens to You

Whether your doctor or someone else tells you a misdiagnosis has been made — or maybe nobody does — getting a second opinion is crucial.

There are plenty of situations where you should get a second opinion. These include:

Thoroughness is important here:

Finding out that the first opinion was wrong can be devastating. But there’s help out there in finding a correct diagnosis.

You can talk with others who may be going through the same ordeal, online or on the phone, through groups like the Cancer Survivor’s Network or the Cancer Support Community.

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