Insight

Misdiagnosing Cancer: An Overview

When cancer is discovered late or misdiagnosed and, by extension mistreated, you might wonder whether malpractice or medical negligence was at play.

Pegalis & Erickson
Annamarie Bondi-Stoddard

Annamarie Bondi-Stoddard

November 22, 2016 12:00 AM

Cancer is a disease that has touched millions of Americans. It is likely at some point in our lives we will have a family member or friend have some type of cancer. But, as medical technology improves, it is easier than ever to identify cancer-- and, when cancer is discovered late or misdiagnosed and, by extension mistreated, you might wonder whether malpractice or medical negligence was at play.

Kidney Cancer


Also known as renal cell carcinoma (RCC), this cancer presents in blood in urine, flank pain, malaise, anemia, and fatigue. These symptoms usually indicate a more advanced cancer and may also mimic those of kidney infections. RCC is asymptomatic in its early stages, and is usually detected during routine examinations.

Testicular Cancer

Fatigue is the main symptom of testicular cancer, along with low back pain. A testicular lump and swollen scrotum are common symptoms as well. This cancer is often found or suspected during physical examinations. Testicular cancer has a remarkably high survival rate, hovering around 97% if timely diagnosed and treated.

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer presents in mild and easy-to-miss symptoms, including neck pain, a lump at the base of the neck, trouble swallowing, and voice changes (hoarseness). The 5 year survival rate for thyroid cancer is about 98%. Thyroid cancer can be misdiagnosed for Graves Disease, thyroid disorders,and Lyme disease.

Bladder Cancer


The main symptoms of bladder cancer are blood in urine and pain during urination. These symptoms mimic urinary tract infections, bladder infections, STDs, and inflamation of the bladder, which are often treatable with antibiotics.

Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer is typically detected in later stages, well after the cancer has progressed. Symptoms include indigestion, heartburn, difficulty swallowing, pain behind breastbone, and vomiting. This condition may be misdiagnosed as heartburn or other less serious conditions. It is particularly important to spot this kind of cancer early on.

Colon Cancer

Symptoms of colon cancer include changes in bowel habits, constipation, narrow stools, blood in stool, abdominal pain, and weight loss. Colon cancer may be misdiagnosed as IBS or ulcerative colitis, both of which are chronic conditions. Colon cancer can be readily detected with routine colonoscopy.

Brain Cancer


Contrary to popular belief, headache is not always a sign of brain cancer, and more-common symptoms such as muscle weakness, nausea, inability to speak or understand language, , seizures, and blurred vision. Some of the symptoms of brain cancers and tumors align with stroke and epilepsy.

Overall, cancer is a rare illness, and doctors may forgo tests and screenings in favor of waiting things out in case the symptoms are caused by other temporary illnesses. Another scenario involves doctors misreading cancer screenings. Either way, both instances of neglect can drastically lower a patient’s quality of life and prolong costly cancer treatment.

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