Common Errors That Lead to Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis October 24, 2023.

3 pink breast cancer ribbons on a pink background

Cancer is a devastating diagnosis that no one wants to receive. It is even worse when doctors misdiagnose or delay diagnosing cancer, making it harder to treat. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so this article is focusing on the misdiagnosis of breast cancer. Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer for women in the world. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. While breast cancer is more common in women, it can also happen in men. 

A missed or delayed diagnosis of breast cancer may lead to more aggressive treatment, advanced cancer forming, and worse outcomes. Like most diseases, detecting breast cancer early greatly increases the chances of having a complete recovery. The American Cancer Society states that if breast cancer is detected early, then the 5-year survival rate is around 99%. In contrast, the National Institutes of Health stated that every 60 days someone’s breast cancer diagnosis is delayed, there is a 26% increased risk of death.

Breast Cancer Symptoms

Breast cancer occurs when cells within the breast start to grow abnormally. These abnormal cells divide quicker than healthy cells, forming lumps in the breast. 

Common symptoms to look for include:

  • Change in breast shape or size
  • Lump in the breast
  • Dimpling of the breast skin
  • Inverted nipple
  • Redness all over the breast
  • Peeling or flaking skin around the areola

How Can Breast Cancer Be Misdiagnosed?

A delay in diagnosis or a misdiagnosis is the reason for many medical malpractice lawsuits. Breast cancer misdiagnosis/ delayed diagnosis can result from many errors within the healthcare facility.

Common errors include:

  • Not ordering/ delaying the order of a mammogram
  • Mammogram results being misinterpreted 
  • Misdiagnosing breast cancer
  • Receiving a false negative due to tissue not being pulled from the correct area during a biopsy
  • Delayed appointments, delay in test results

Breast cancer is commonly misdiagnosed as other issues with similar symptoms. If someone goes to the doctor with similar symptoms to breast cancer and the doctor doesn't order a test, then it could be easily misdiagnosed as a different, benign disease. The only way to rule out breast cancer is through a mammogram or biopsy.


Mastitis is defined as inflammation of the breast tissue, usually due to an infection. Other symptoms include pain, swelling, a lump in the breast, body aches, fever, and redness of the breast. Mastitis occurs in women who are breastfeeding, but it can happen at other times as well. It can be treated with antibiotics and mild pain relievers.

Fibrocystic Breast Disease

Fibrocystic breast disease is a condition that occurs from hormone changes. Symptoms include painful lumps in the breast, swollen tissue, pain, and discomfort near the underarms. This usually occurs during a woman's menstrual cycle. In most cases, no medical treatment is needed. Instead, the use of a warm compress and over-the-counter pain relievers should help.

If you are diagnosed with mastitis or fibrocystic breast disease and you believe it could be something more, schedule an appointment with a breast health specialist. Going to a doctor who specializes in breast health will look beyond your symptoms and will order necessary testing. Testing such as a mammogram, CT scan, or biopsy could be done to rule out breast cancer. If you still feel like your symptoms are more than a benign issue, it is always good to get a second opinion.

How Do I Prove a Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis?

A misdiagnosis does not always result in having a case for misdiagnosis. Even though a misdiagnosis could be a life-threatening mistake, it depends on if there is evidence that a healthcare professional acted negligently or unreasonably. This could include not ordering further testing, or failing to read a test correctly. 

If you want to see if you have a case for misdiagnosis contact one of our Cleveland- based attorneys who are experienced in these types of cases. The Mellino Law firm received a $4.1 million verdict against a doctor who misread the client’s cancer symptoms. Call our office at (440)333-3800 or fill out our contact form for a free consultation.