Breast cancer misdiagnosis features highly in legal actions
MORE THAN a quarter of the legal actions taken against Irish hospitals for alleged cancer misdiagnosis over the past eight years related to cases of breast cancer, data released under the Freedom of Information Acts shows.
Some 100 claims of alleged cancer misdiagnosis were received by the State Claims Agency between January 2004 and December 2011 following treatment at 33 hospitals across the State, according to figures released to The Irish Times.
Of these, a disproportionate number, 28, related to breast cancer, the third-most common cancer in Ireland after skin and prostate cancer.
There was only one claim for alleged misdiagnosis of skin cancer and five for prostate cancer.
On average, 30,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in Ireland every year. In the region of 10 per cent of all cancer cases relate to breast cancer.
In 2009 more than 8,000 people were diagnosed with skin cancer, while there were more than 2,850 cases of prostate cancer. The figure was 2,766 for breast cancer, 2,271 for bowel cancer and 1,784 for lung cancer.
John Kennedy, consultant medical oncologist at St James’s Hospital in Dublin, suggested it was possible that because women tend to be more vigilant about their health, they may attend doctors at much earlier stages when diagnosis may be more difficult, whereas men attend later when there is less possibility of missing the diagnosis. This could contribute to the higher level of breast cancer misdiagnosis, he said.
A “media frenzy” in the wake of high-profile breast cancer misdiagnosis cases in 2007 may have also encouraged other women to consider if the same could have happened to them. It would take time for those historical figures to go through the system, he said.
Dr Kennedy also said the reorganisation of the service, with eight specialist centres for breast cancer, meant a high rate of misdiagnosis was less likely in the future. But he said that even in the best services internationally there was a miss rate of up to 2 per cent.
Some 13 of the cancer misdiagnosis claims handled by the agency since 2004 related to lung cancer, the fifth-most common cancer in Ireland. There were nine misdiagnosis claims related to gynaecological cancers including cervical, ovarian and uterine. Four cases followed alleged misdiagnosis of lymphoma and four related to cancers affecting the brain.