INDIANAPOLIS 317-566-9600
KOKOMO 765-865-9300
BLOOMINGTON 812-566-2600



INDIANAPOLIS 317-566-9600
KOKOMO 765-865-9300
BLOOMINGTON 812-566-2600





Most Misdiagnosed Cancers and Why

Effectively treating cancer requires early detection, as cancer is one of the deadliest diseases in North America. Initiating treatment as soon as possible significantly improves the chances of survival. While diagnosing cancer is critical, misdiagnosing cancer can be fatal.

What is Cancer Misdiagnosis?

Cancer misdiagnosis affects nearly 12 million people each year, according to a 2020 Healthline article.

There are several causes of cancer misdiagnosis, including:

  • Mistaken identification of the cancer type.
  • Misinterpretation of the disease’s severity.
  • Misdiagnosis of cancer symptoms leading to an inaccurate cancer diagnosis and prognosis.
  • Errors during the collection of tissue samples, in the laboratory, or during cancer screening test results.
  • Ineffectiveness of the initially prescribed treatment plan due to the misdiagnosis.

The Most Misdiagnosed Cancers

While physicians can diagnose all types of cancer, they misdiagnose some types more often. Some types of cancer present identical symptoms to other diseases. For example, lung cancer has similar symptoms to other respiratory diseases, such as tuberculosis. For rarer forms of cancer, doctors may not be able to recognize the signs at all.

The most commonly misdiagnosed cancers are:

  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Melanoma

Breast Cancer

Misdiagnosis of breast cancer can have dire consequences. The survival rate for detection of early-stage breast cancer is nearly 100 percent. Yet, only 28 percent of patients survive for five years or longer when breast cancer reaches stage IV, according to the American Cancer Society. On the other hand, misdiagnosed breast cancer can lead to unnecessary testing and invasive treatments.

Medical journals suggest that physicians overdiagnose up to 31 percent of breast cancer cases, meaning doctors mistakenly diagnose precancerous cells that will not cause clinical problems or threaten the patient’s life. Misdiagnosed cancers can result in unnecessary and aggressive cancer treatments for healthy individuals.

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is a combination of colon, rectum, and prostate cancer. Physicians frequently misdiagnose colorectal cancer.

Most colon cancers initially develop as polyps, or noncancerous growths, which can be biopsied or removed during the colonoscopy to prevent them from growing into cancer. The survival rate for colon cancer drops from 91 percent at stage I to a mere 14 percent at stage IV.

Lung Cancer

In the United States, lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women. Lung cancer misdiagnosis can be particularly devastating.

The longer lung cancer goes undiagnosed, the worse the prognosis becomes. At stage 0, the survival rate for lung cancer ranges from 73 to 90 percent, but this falls to less than 10 percent at stage IV due to its slow growth rate.

Early detection enables effective treatment, but it is challenging to diagnose lung cancer due to its limited symptoms in the initial stages. Often, symptoms are mistaken for other diseases like shortness of breath, COPD, or asthma.


Lymphoma is a cancer that affects the body’s immune system cells. Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma form in lymphocytes, or white blood cells, and can sometimes manifest in the skin.

One reason for the high rate of misdiagnosis of lymphoma is its similarity of symptoms, such as fever, weight loss, fatigue, and excessive night sweats, to those of less severe conditions. Even the enlarged lymph nodes, a characteristic feature of lymphoma, can be attributed to common ailments like the common cold or infections, leading to misdiagnosis.

Skin Cancers

Melanoma, a rare but lethal form of skin cancer, is among the most frequently misdiagnosed cancers in the United States. In early stages, skin cancer may resemble eczema or other noncancerous conditions.

Failing to see a dermatologist for testing on suspicious skin marks and growths allows the skin cancer to progress to more severe, life-threatening stages.

Surprisingly, misdiagnosis of skin cancers is due to errors in the laboratory. Physicians collect body tissue samples for a biopsy to detect cancer. Pathologists who read the biopsies may not be fully knowledgeable about a particular type of cancer, leading to mistakes.


Dealing with a delayed cancer diagnosis poses significant challenges. Misdiagnosis prevents patients from receiving timely treatment, allowing initially treatable early-stage cancer to progress to advanced or even terminal stages. Conversely, misdiagnosis might lead to unnecessary treatment for a disease the patient doesn’t have.

Upon learning of a cancer diagnosis, it is crucial to consult with a doctor about available options regardless of the stage. Even if one believes their primary physician is competent, seeking a second opinion is often wise because diagnostic errors are common.

How We Can Help

Healthcare providers are subject to human error just like the rest of us, but that doesn’t absolve them of any responsibility or malpractice. A cancer misdiagnosis can cause significant financial and emotional burdens to you and your family.

If you have suffered from a cancer misdiagnosis, it’s essential to seek legal representation from a medical malpractice firm. An experienced attorney can help you understand your legal options and hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions. In addition to seeking legal recourse, working with healthcare providers is important to ensure you receive the appropriate medical care and support.

To schedule a free consultation, call us at 317-566-9600 (Indianapolis), 765-865-9300 (Kokomo), or 812-566-2600 (Bloomington), or complete our online inquiry form to schedule an appointment* with one of our health professional attorneys to review your case. We hope to hear from you if you were harmed through medical treatments or neglect. We have offices in Indianapolis, Kokomo, and Bloomington to serve you.

*Free consultation; no retainer fee. You don’t pay a fee until we obtain a settlement for you. All attorney fees are based on the amount of your recovery.

*The amount of medical malpractice attorney fees are set by Indiana Law.