Misdiagnosis through Symptoms

A significant cause of misdiagnosis is a similarity of symptoms coupled with a lack of knowledge regarding the cause of the symptoms. For example, ovarian cancer and endometriosis may exhibit nearly identical symptoms. Both conditions can cause severe pelvic pain, diarrhea, constipation, infertility, and irregular menstrual bleeding. When doctors cannot identify significant evidence supporting one condition over the other, a misdiagnosis is more likely to occur.

Commonly Misdiagnosed Cancers

Experts believe that the most commonly misdiagnosed forms of cancer are due to the high frequency of occurrence of these cancers. Additionally, many patients may not exhibit signs and symptoms of these and other forms of cancer until their condition reaches an advanced stage. For this reason, both doctors and patients should stay vigilant and aware of symptoms, their progression or disappearance, and how they may interact with certain treatment plans.

Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis

It is estimated that one in eight women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Breast cancer may be misdiagnosed as a non-cancerous cyst, or collection of liquid contained within tissue. Inflammatory breast cancer is a type of breast cancer that causes the breast to become red, inflamed, and warm to the touch. Inflammatory breast cancer may be misdiagnosed as mastitis, or breast inflammation. Inflammatory breast cancer may also be misdiagnosed as fibrocystic breast disease, a benign condition that causes a lumpy or rope-like breast texture.

Colorectal Cancer Misdiagnosis

Colorectal cancer involves the patient’s lower intestine and rectum. Colorectal cancer may be mistaken for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis. Colorectal cancer may also be misdiagnosed as hemorrhoids, or piles.

Pancreatic Cancer Misdiagnosis

Pancreatic cancer often causes symptoms in the patient’s digestive tract. This can lead to misdiagnosis as conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Pancreatic cancer may also be misdiagnosed as gallstones or pancreatitis, or the inflammation of the pancreas. Pancreatic cancer may be diagnosed as diabetes, due to the fact that diabetes is often a symptom or risk factor of pancreatic cancer.

Lung Cancer Misdiagnosis

Lung cancer exhibits symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and a hoarse-sounding voice. These symptoms may also be present in patients who experience several types of respiratory infections and other conditions. For this reason, lung cancer may be misdiagnosed as conditions such as pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis, or bronchitis. Lung cancer may also be diagnosed as pleurisy, which results from the inflammation of the membrane which lines the inside of the chest cavity.

Monitoring Treatment Results

In many cases, misdiagnosis is not the result of medical malpractice or doctor negligence. Cancer misdiagnosis may simply occur due to a lack of general cancer knowledge and difficulty identifying a patient’s symptoms. When misdiagnosis occurs, it can be difficult to find sufficient evidence to suggest cancer and divert the patient’s path of treatment accordingly. For this reason, it is important for doctors and patients to carefully monitor the effects of the patient’s prescribed treatment plan. Failure of treatment to alleviate symptoms and cure the patient’s condition can be a significant indicator that misdiagnosis occurred.


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Vincent, Audrey, et al. (2011) Pancreatic Cancer. The Lancet 378.9791: 607-20. ProQuest. Web. 8 Nov. 2013.

Paul and Perkins (2017). Disease Mistaken for Cancer. Access: March 18, 2017, Source: