What Are the Most Commonly Misdiagnosed Cancers?

Since the nature of cancer is still so widely misunderstood, it is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed diseases. A cancer misdiagnosis could potentially have devastating consequences for the patient because when cancer, such as breast cancer, is mistakenly identified, or not identified at all, the time for receiving critical, life-saving treatment has passed causing their condition to worsen or become fatal. When a disease is incorrectly diagnosed as cancer, patients often endure emotionally taxing and painful surgeries that are entirely unnecessary. In addition to this, the undiagnosed condition is left to advance and lead to further health problems. Once a misdiagnosis is given, it can be challenging to determine that an error has been made and receive a new diagnosis along with the appropriate treatment. This is why physicians need to explore all possible diagnoses as well as carefully monitor their patient’s conditions along with their response to their current treatment. If your doctor failed to properly diagnose and treat your cancer or any other medical condition, speak to an experienced Virginia Beach medical malpractice lawyer from Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp right away. 

Statistics on Cancer Misdiagnosis

Multiple studies have been performed on the misdiagnosis rates of specific diseases, such as cancer, in different clinical settings. One study determined that diagnostic errors were made in 28% of intensive care patients. Another study examined diagnostic errors among cancer outpatients and discovered that 46% of diagnostic errors included missed diagnoses, while 76% involved failure to order the proper diagnostic tests. 

What Types of Cancer Are Misdiagnosed Most Frequently?


Lymphoma is a cancer that forms in the cells of the lymph system. The two main types of lymphoma are non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma. Both initially develop in the body’s lymphocytes (white blood cells). In some cases, it can also develop in the skin.  

One reason why doctors misdiagnose lymphoma so often is that the symptoms, which include weight loss, fever, severe night sweats, and fatigue, also occur in many other, less serious medical conditions. Even the enlarged lymph nodes that characterize this disease are associated with many other illnesses. When a physician misdiagnoses lymphoma, it is usually because they attributed the patient’s symptoms to an infection or even the common cold. 

Breast Cancer

According to the National Association of Science Writers, breast cancer is so misdiagnosed with such frequency that its delayed detection is the leading source of medical malpractice lawsuits. 

Conversely, about 31% of breast cancer cases are overdiagnosed, meaning that physicians misdiagnose precancerous cells as full-blown cancer which leads to patients undergoing extreme medical treatments for absolutely no reason. Mammograms overlook roughly 16% of breast cancer cases. For the patients in this group, this delay in detection and treatment can be fatal. 

When detected early on, breast cancer almost has a 100% survival rate. However, once it reaches stage IV, only 28% of patients have a survival rate of five or more years.  

Colon Cancer

The third type of cancer most commonly misdiagnosed is colorectal cancer. Doctors typically detect bowel, rectum, or colon cancer by conducting a colonoscopy. This procedure, which is the suggested method of detection for both women and men aged 50 and up, allows doctors to see the inside of a sedated patient via the use of cameras and tubes. 

A colonoscopy is unique in that it is the one screening test that can prevent cancer, not simply identify it. Almost all colorectal cancers form from polyps, a type of non-cancerous tumor. Colonoscopies allow doctors to biopsy and even extract polyps, ensuring that they never develop into cancer.

Misdiagnosing colorectal cancer is a serious matter. Patients in stage I have a 91% survival rate compared to those in stage IV who have a 14% survival rate. 

Was Your Cancer Misdiagnosed?

When a doctor misdiagnoses any form of cancer, it prevents the patient from receiving the medical treatment they need in a timely fashion. This type of medical negligence lets early-stage, treatable cancers develop into late-stage and even terminal cancers. Once you receive a cancer diagnosis, regardless of the stage, you need to talk to your physician about your treatment options. It is also wise to get a second opinion, regardless of your doctor’s competency, because of how often diagnostic errors occur. Any delay in accurate diagnosis and treatment can change your prognosis from bad to worse. No matter how expeditiously you may act, however, it will do nothing to negate the effects of delayed treatment due to a missed or misdiagnosis. 

Since 1985, the Virginia Beach medical malpractice lawyers at Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp have been helping clients who have been injured due to medical negligence, such as missed diagnoses, seek justice and maximum financial compensation for their damages. In one recent case, we obtained a $1.6 million jury verdict for a woman whose doctor failed to diagnose her with hyponatremia, leading to a lack of medical intervention and allowing her condition to worsen considerably. 

To speak with an experienced Virginia Beach medical malpractice lawyer, schedule a free case review by calling (833) 997-1774 or filling out our quick online contact form. We serve clients throughout Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Hampton.