At Queller, Fisher, Washor, Fuchs & Kool And The Law Office Of William A. Gallina, LLP, our breast cancer misdiagnosis lawyers in New York understand the severity of this horrific disease. Breast cancer is responsible for killing over 30,000 women each year. While the number of deaths caused by breast cancer each year is enormous, many more women are saved because a doctor diagnosed their disease early enough for effective treatment. As a result, the lives of thousands of women each year rest in a doctor's ability to detect and treat breast cancer.
However, when a doctor fails to detect or misdiagnoses breast cancer, the consequences can be life-altering. In some cases, a doctor's misdiagnosis may have been the result of negligence. When a doctor's negligence leads to a misdiagnosis, the victim may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit to recoup compensation for damages. Our lawyers are committed to helping victims and their families whose lives have been permanently altered by misdiagnoses. Our firm is determined to help our clients get their lives back on track and will pursue maximum compensation for them in court.
Breast Cancer Is Among The Most Common Life-Altering Diseases In The United States
Breast cancer is a life-altering diagnosis – one whose high incidence rate means it touches almost everyone's life in some way. Approximately 12.3 percent of American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point during their lives – roughly 1 out of 8 women. While advances in treatment, early detection and increased awareness have led to positive outcomes, breast cancer remains the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in America.
What Are The Methods Of Breast Cancer Detection?
Breast cancer, broadly speaking, may involve the milk ducts or the breast tissue itself, called lobules. Cancer of the ducts is referred to as ductal, whereas cancer of the breast tissue is referred to as lobular. Both types of cancer may either be contained (known as “in situ”) or invasive. Methods for screening and early detection for both types of breast cancer are similar. They include:
- Clinical breast examination
- Additional breast imaging, such as a sonogram or MRI scan
Proper Testing By Physicians Is The Key To Avoiding A Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis
A breast exam performed by a physician is a key component in breast cancer detection. A gynecologist or other primary care provider properly performing a breast examination may feel or observe changes in the breasts that warrant further testing. A clinical breast exam is a very accurate method of detecting palpable abnormalities (i.e. those capable of being felt).
Not all lumps, masses or lesions that are felt in the breast are cancer. Most are not cancer; many lumps are simply benign cysts, which are very common and generally not related to breast cancer. Of particular concern, however, are lumps which do not come-and-go, (especially with changes in the menstrual cycle), get larger or grow over time, are hard or feel fixed to the tissue.
How Can A Mammogram Help Diagnose Breast Cancer?
A mammogram is an x-ray study of the breasts. The modality's strength is its ability to detect calcium deposits, referred to as calcifications. While usually benign, calcifications may also be an early sign of breast cancer and can be viewed by mammography before the cancer forms a palpable mass, allowing for earlier treatment. Of particular concern are so-called “microcalcifications” grouped in a cluster.
Mammography varies between screening studies and diagnostic studies. The screening mammogram is the standard 2 view test performed annually. The breasts are x-rayed from 2 views: cranial-caudal (top-down) and medial-lateral-oblique (roughly 45 degree angle from the center of the chest out towards the armpit). Diagnostic mammography is an additional x-ray study performed because of some abnormality. Additional views may be taken, such as true-lateral, where the imaging is done horizontally across the breast. More importantly, perhaps, are magnification and compression views that can achieve a more specific view of the area of question. The compression view is particularly important because a cancerous mass will oftentimes not press out under pressure, whereas a non-cancerous mass may.
How Can A Sonogram Help Diagnose Breast Cancer?
Sonography is also an important screening tool. Breast cysts are common. These fluid-filled masses may come and go during a woman's menstrual cycle. They are typically benign and generally insignificant to the woman's health. It is, however, difficult to distinguish between cysts and cancerous masses on mammography. Sonography is performed by sending sound-waves through the breast tissue. The fluid-filled cysts will react differently to the sound-waves than a cancerous mass. Sonography can tell the difference between a benign cyst and what could be a malignant mass. It is also useful in evaluating women with dense breast tissue.
How Can An MRI Help Diagnose Breast Cancer?
An MRI scan may be used in breast cancer detection, though its value remains limited; this is because it may produce uncertain findings and cannot detect calcifications. Under specific circumstances, however, a breast MRI may be helpful in obtaining more information about a suspicious area or one that is already known to be cancerous. For example, an MRI scan may be used to evaluate a palpable mass that cannot be seen on a sonogram or mammogram or to further evaluate an area of dense breast tissue. An MRI scan can also locate a cancerous mass in the breast, known to be there due to cancer cells in an axillary lymph node (armpit), that is not felt or revealed on other imaging. MRIs are also useful to determine whether breast cancer is "multicentric," meaning it is not limited to 1 area. Whether cancer is multicentric affects the treatment options. This is especially important for invasive lobular cancers which are more likely to be multicentric. An MRI scan should be used, according to the American Cancer Society, when breast cancer is detected in 1 breast to evaluate the other breast for cancer. An MRI scan is also recommended for women with silicone breast implants because it can detect silicone leakage from an implant.
How Can A Biopsy Help Diagnose Breast Cancer?
Once a suspicious area is noted via breast imaging, the next step is generally a breast biopsy. Detection methods like clinical breast exams, mammograms or sonograms do not actually diagnose breast cancer. Rather, it is only with a biopsy that breast cancer is truly diagnosed.
There are a few different types of breast biopsies.
Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy: During fine need aspiration, a thin needle is inserted into the area and fluid or tissue is pulled into the syringe; the sample is then looked at by a pathologist under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present. If the area to be biopsied has a lump or other mass that can be felt, the doctor can locate the area and perform the biopsy. If the biopsy area does not contain a palpable mass or lesion, the doctor can perform an ultrasound-guided biopsy or stereotactic needle biopsy.
Ultrasound-Guided Biopsy: During an ultrasound-guided biopsy, the doctor uses ultrasound technology to guide the needle to the area to be biopsied.
Stereotactic Needle Biopsy: During a stereotactic needle biopsy, computers use mammograms to map the exact location to be biopsied.
Core Needle Biopsy: During a core needle biopsy, a needle is inserted into the area of concern. This needle, however, is larger and is used to draw cylinders or "cores" of tissue from the area. The needle may be inserted multiple times to sample different areas of the lump or area being biopsied.
Vacuum-Assisted Core Biopsy: During this type of biopsy, a small cut in the skin is made to allow a hollow probe to be inserted. The probe is guided to the biopsy area via x-rays, ultrasound or MRI. The probe then draws in tissue from an opening in its side, where a rotating knife in the probe then cuts off a tissue sample.
Surgical Or Open Biopsy: During this type of biopsy, an area of breast tissue is surgically removed. There are 2 types: an incisional biopsy (in which a part of the area is removed for analysis) and an excisional biopsy (in which the entire area is removed, along with a border of normal tissue). Prior to a surgical biopsy, a wire may be placed via a needle to aid the surgeon. This is particularly useful when the mass or lesion cannot be felt, but looks suspicious on a mammogram. Once the tissue is removed, the surgeon may place and leave a "clip" or other marker in the area for future reference.
Many Breast Cancer Misdiagnoses Are The Result Of A Doctor's Negligence
Many women are denied the benefits of treatment advances, early detection and increased awareness due to the negligence of the very doctors entrusted with their health and well-being. The evidence is clear that early detection saves women's lives and gives them the best chance of less invasive, less drastic treatments. It is truly tragedy piled on misfortune when the very physicians relied upon to screen and detect breast cancer fail in their task.
Medical negligence may occur in this context when a gynecologist or other primary care provider fails to either detect or properly follow-up regarding a suspicious breast mass. Too often, our breast cancer misdiagnosis lawyers have seen cases in which a woman's doctor failed to recognize a concerning mass, or, perhaps even more troubling, failed to obtain the necessary medical exams and analysis for a suspicious mass. Our attorneys have seen too many instances in which the physician notes a breast mass during a clinical breast exam, but then either decides simply to "watch" it or has his or her suspicions satisfied by mammography that does not note a suspicious mass or lesion.
For example, our attorneys won a substantial award for the family of a mother of 2 in her forties who died from breast cancer. A suspicious lump was discovered during a clinical breast exam, but was not biopsied. In another case, our attorneys obtained a significant award for a woman in her sixties who endured mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy; her primary care doctor noted a suspicious lump during a breast exam, but just decided to watch it after the mammogram was read as “normal.” If a suspicious mass or lesion is felt during a breast exam, there must be a referral to a breast specialist for further analysis – even if tests like mammography or sonography do not note a suspicious area.
Our breast cancer misdiagnosis attorneys in New York have also seen cases of medical malpractice where mammograms or sonograms were misread – meaning the test showed suspicious areas or markings, but the radiologist interpreting the tests failed to note them. In many cases, our lawyers have obtained substantial awards for women or their families where mammograms showed concerning signs that were misread by the radiologist.
In a particularly egregious case, the radiologist admitted, when pressed by our lawyers, that the mammogram indeed showed a suspicious lesion that should be biopsied, but he disregarded it because he assumed it was merely scar tissue from a prior biopsy. The story fell apart, however, when the radiologist also had to admit that prior mammograms did not show this supposed "scar tissue." These cases are particularly worrisome because one of the best opportunities for early detection has been missed and the physician who ordered the test in the first place could be misled as to the proper follow-up.