Misdiagnosis has been a topic which has received a fair share of media coverage this summer. Earlier this month we covered a study which revealed that three medical conditions (cancer, vascular events, and infection) accounted for 75% of diagnostic error malpractice cases. We also discussed the cases of several women whose symptoms were mistakenly diagnosed as perimenopause, when actually they were related to much more severe conditions, including heart disease and cancer.
When we think of misdiagnosis, we often think of cases such as those discussed above – a patient who is suffering from a serious disease or illness but is handed the wrong diagnosis, worsening his or her prognosis to a degree that can be incredibly harmful or even fatal. But what about a misdiagnosis of a serious illness in an otherwise healthy patient? Unfortunately, this was the case for a young mother from the United Kingdom.
Sarah Boyle was just twenty-five years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had experienced trouble breastfeeding her young son and visited a physician to discuss her issues. This led to the order of a biopsy. Ms. Boyle was informed that she had triple-negative breast cancer. Triple-negative breast cancer can be more aggressive and difficult to treat compared to other types of breast cancer. Additionally, triple-negative is more likely to spread and recur.
Ms. Boyle was ordered to start treatment immediately for her breast cancer. She underwent courses of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, followed by reconstructive surgery. She was also told that the aggressive cancer treatments could potentially harm her fertility.
In the summer of 2017, months after her initial diagnosis, Ms. Boyle and her family received the shocking news that she had never had triple-negative breast cancer (or any cancer of any kind). A “human error” at the hospital in which she was diagnosed resulted in the misreporting of her biopsy sample. In another tragic twist, the implants that Ms. Boyle received as part of her treatment were a textured type of implant, which have recently been linked to a rare form of lymphoma. In addition to the risk posed by her implants, Ms. Boyle stated that she worries about how her health may be impacted in the future by the treatment she received, including chemotherapy.
The hospital in which she received the incorrect diagnosis has stated that they have changed their procedure in the wake of Sarah Boyle’s misdiagnosis. They now require that an as an “extra safeguard,” all invasive cancer diagnoses given in the future will be reviewed by a second pathologist.