A breast biopsy study conducted at Oregon Health & Science University has found that, when it comes to identifying the red flags for cancer risks in biopsies, breast tissue specialists are often overlooking or misinterpreting the presence of certain lesions.

The findings of this study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, have triggered a call not only for more research on this matter but also for the development of better diagnostic techniques.

A Closer Look at the Study: Why Are these Diagnostic Errors So Common?

doctor realizing a mistake

The specific “red flag” for breast cancer that this study focused on was atypia, abnormal cell growths have been identified as “high-risk” for cancer (though they do not indicate the presence of cancer definitively). For instance, one type of atypia has been associated with a 17 percent risk of developing breast cancer over a 10-year period.

These lesions, which can be effectively managed with noninvasive treatments, such as hormone therapies, to reduce women’s risk of developing breast cancer, are generally detected through biopsies.

However, what this breast biopsy study found was that breast tissue specialists only agreed with oncology experts about the diagnoses/presence of atypia about 48 percent of the time. As a result, this ended up causing:

  • Some patients/study participants to receive far more treatments than necessary.
  • About 35 percent of the cases analyzed in this study to not be prescribed ANY ongoing monitoring or follow-up care.

Commenting on these findings, co-leader of this study, Dr. Heidi Nelson, stated:

Some women [who are misdiagnosed] are not getting as much surveillance as they need, while others are getting too much…These are [diagnoses] that we are finding through screening, so we really owe it to women to accurately diagnose what we’re finding and then make the appropriate choices.

So, what can you do as a patient to protect yourself and avoid being harmed by diagnostic errors during breast cancer biopsies? Get a second or third opinion is what researchers say.

Researchers have also stated that, given the findings of this study, more research regarding the diagnostic errors made in breast cancer biopsies needs to be conducted. Additionally, some are calling for more precise guidelines or protocols for reviewing biopsy results.

What do you think about the findings of this study? Share your thoughts and comments with us on Facebook and Google+!

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