Breast Cancer Awareness Month: The Important Role of Early Diagnoses
On October 3rd, fans of Mean Girls will be wearing pink to pay homage to the 2004 teen classic on the unofficial Mean Girls Day. But even if you don’t get the reference, there is another reason to break out the pink. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month!
Breast Cancer Statistics
In 2018, the National Cancer Institute estimates there will be 1,735,350 new cases of cancer in the United States, with 609,640 deaths. Of these cases, the Susan G. Komen Cancer Foundation estimates that 40,920 deaths will be the result of breast cancer. It is a type of cancer that predominantly affects women. The risk is particularly high for women who are over 70, overweight, or have a family history of breast cancer.
Like other types of cancers, breast cancer occurs when cell within the body start to uncontrollably divide. With breast cancer, it usually starts in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple or in the milk-producing glands. Its main characteristics is a lump in the breast, but can also lead to symptoms like bloody discharge, discomfort, or redness and swelling of the lymph nodes.
Diagnosing Breast Cancer
Many women are able to discover the warnings signs by themselves or by seeing their doctor on a regular basis. Breast cancer can also be detected through a procedure called a mammogram, which is an x-ray of the breast. When breast cancer is discovered in its earliest stages, aggressive treatment contributes to a higher survival rate. Breast cancer is commonly treated through chemotherapy or a procedure called a mastectomy, during which all or part of the breast is removed. When breast cancer is treated before it spreads to other parts of the body, there is about a 99% of five-year survival. This is very impressive when compared to the only 27% chance of five year survival when the cancer spreads to other areas of the body.
The Impact of a Failure to Diagnose
These statistics show why an early diagnosis is so important—and why a doctor’s failure to promptly diagnose breast cancer can have serious consequences. Failure to diagnose occurs when a doctor fails or neglects to recognize a patient’s illness or misdiagnoses their illness. When this happens, it can lead to a delay in treatment or even a total lack of treatment. Since failure to diagnose has such life-threatening implications, it falls under the umbrella of medical malpractice.
For a patient with cancer, a doctor’s behavior might be considered medical malpractice if they:
- Dismiss the patient’s symptoms or mistake their symptoms for another illness
- Fail to properly perform routine tests, like mammograms
- Misread tests, scans, or other results that should have shown the patient’s cancer
- Do not diagnose the cancer at all
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is important to address the scary statistics and complicated realities of breast cancer. It is not a fun topic, and the thought of issues like a failure to diagnose only make matters worse. But during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is important that we do more than just wear pink in support. We have to address issues like failure to diagnose in order to get closer to finding a cure.
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