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Breast Cancer Awareness And Misdiagnosis

When it comes to misdiagnosis, not all medical conditions are created equal. Some conditions are more likely to result in a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis than others. Among the most commonly misdiagnosed ailments are three forms of cancer: lung cancer, colorectal cancer and breast cancer. A study conducted at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology found that all three were among the five most commonly misdiagnosed conditions, joining heart attack and appendicitis. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so now is a perfect time to look at the steps women and their doctors can take to prevent a potentially life-threatening misdiagnosis.

Make A Plan And Stick To It

Going to the doctor can be intimidating. If you do not have a regular doctor, or have been referred to a specialist, it can be easy to defer to their expertise and assume they do not make mistakes. Medical mistakes, including misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis, are incredibly common. Even highly trained doctors make mistakes. You need to understand that taking an active role in your own care is important. You should maintain a record of any medical tests or blood work you've had done. If possible, you should obtain a copy of your doctor's notes after each visit. Go into each appointment with notes about your symptoms, ask questions, write down the answers and make sure you get what you came for. 

Medical History Isn't Everything

There is some misunderstanding when it comes to cancer about the role played by family medical history. Many people believe that if breast cancer did not strike their mothers or grandmothers, they are safe. This, sadly, is not true. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer had no family history of the disease. There is no single risk factor that determines whether or not you can get breast cancer. While the majority of breast cancer patients are females over 50, the condition does strike younger women and even men.

Stay Vigilant

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggests that women between 50 and 74 years of age should get a screening mammogram every two years. Women over 40 are asked to discuss screening schedules with their doctors. While breast cancer does not always lead to symptoms right away, women should be on the lookout for the known signs of the disease, including breast pain, nipple discharge other than breast milk, changes in the size or shape of the breast, and a new lump or lumps in the breast. If you suffer from any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor as soon as possible and follow up on recommendations.

Always Ask Questions

The most common reason for delayed diagnosis of breast cancer is that a biopsy was not performed after an abnormal test result. If you have one or more symptoms and a biopsy is not ordered, you should ask why. Does the doctor want more information? When and how will that information be gathered? Is there another doctor you should see? Is there another test you should take? Should you be making another appointment now? Delay can be fatal when it comes to a serious health problem like breast cancer. It is often helpful to write down questions in advance just to get into the habit of starting a dialogue with your doctor.

Breast cancer claims the lives of more than 40,000 women each year. The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances of survival. A missed or delayed diagnosis can be fatal. Know the signs of breast cancer and protect yourself by staying on top of your medical care.

Source: CDC, "Breast Cancer Awareness," October 2016 

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