Breast biopsies can be difficult to interpret

A newly published study says that pathologists have difficulty diagnosing breast biopsies in cases of pre-cancerous conditions. Arkansas women might not realize that this could lead to either inadequate or too-aggressive treatment. The findings have led experts in the field to advise that women get second opinions if they are diagnosed with atypical hyperplasia or ductal carcinoma in situ.

The research involved 115 pathologists examining 240 specimens of breast tissue and their diagnoses being compared to the diagnoses of three experts. The pathologists agreed with the experts when it came to diagnosing atypical hyperplasia around 50 percent of the time. About 33 percent of the samples of atypia were misdiagnosed as normal tissue, and 17 percent of the samples diagnosed were normal tissue. Ductal carcinoma in situ was less difficult to diagnose, but the study still showed that 16 percent of the diagnoses disagreed with the expert evaluations.

This experiment might not reflect actual rates of accuracy in the medical field, but the authors say that the results highlight how challenging it is to interpret tissue accurately under the microscope. In an actual clinical diagnosis, pathologists can consult with other health professionals when they are unsure about a diagnosis. In addition, the study showed that the pathologists agreed on the diagnosis of cancer 96 percent of the time.

However, the findings suggest that many of the women diagnosed with a precancerous condition might not be receiving the treatment they need. Furthermore, a misdiagnosis can mean that more women develop breast cancer after a precancerous condition is overlooked.

The negligence of a pathologist, radiologist or other health-care professional could lead to the misdiagnosis of breast cancer. When negligence is involved in a misdiagnosis that has harmful effects, the suffering patient might qualify for compensation through a medical malpractice claim.

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