Where’d your boobs go?

A tragic story of careless medicine in Florida was reported on the CNN website today. A woman was told she had a very serious breast cancer, and decided based on that information to have a double mastectomy. The bigger tragedy is the patient who actually had the serious cancer went undiagnosed for months. This article just reinforces how important because careful, and double checking are in the medical field. But since tests are carried out by humans they are subject to error. I feel that additional costs of running repeat tests before serious procedures (if time applicable) would be smaller than the costs caused by such serious mistakes. Here is the story:

(Florida): A woman had both of her breasts mistakenly removed after a lab headquartered out of Florida apparently switched her tissue specimens with a patient suffering from cancer. Darrie Eason, a 35-year-old single mother from Long Beach, said she was recently diagnosed with a highly aggressive form of breast cancer.Eason said she did all the right things after the cancer diagnosis. “I had a second opinion and saw specialists,” Eason said. “Then, I had a radical mastectomy.”

Two weeks after the operation, her doctor called and told her about the mistake, Local 6 reported. Eason’s tissue sample was apparently mislabeled by a lab technician at the CBL Path medical lab in Rye Brook. CBL Path is headquartered in Ocala, but the tests were done in New York. The real cancer patient in the apparent mix-up went undiagnosed for months, the report said.

Eason filed a lawsuit against CBL Path Inc. The company is defending its labs and said the New York Health Department found no other major problems. The technician involved in the incident is no longer with the company, according to CBS News.

As cliche as it sounds, cancer is something that touches all of us.  Everyone knows someone affected by cancer, whether you yourself have dealt with the disease or a friend or family member.  I think we tend to think of ourselves as invincible and think it couldn’t happen to us, but knowing how common it is we aren’t completely shocked when someone else has it.  That attitude allows mistakes to be common in cancer patients.  For example in this case, no one bother to stop and think “wait that is rare, what are the odds lets double check”.  In extremely aggressive cancers without a family history the testing should be even more vigorous.  Its not to say the doctor ordered the wrong tests, he didn’t and it is not his fault there was a lab error.  But the doctor does know human error is possible so why didn’t he seek confirmation either in a follow up or in another test before such a radical procedure.

3 Responses to Where’d your boobs go?

  1. Darmok says:

    And how exactly would the doctor confirm the diagnosis? Another biopsy? Do you think, given the extreme rarity of such errors, that most patients would accept the risk of another procedure? That insurance companies would cover the expense? How do you know the patient had no family history of breast cancer? Sure, the odds are low, but when you’re a cancer doctor, you are not seeing a randomly selected population.

  2. cancervixen says:

    Family history is a falicy to 1 out of every 10 new cancer patients, according to my doc. I am one who has not a single family member or extended family member with cancer. Even after a second opinion they are going to look at the same sample and conclude the same course of action or change based on the original biospy. I quess I am jealous that I would rather have no boobs and know I am cancer free than the women who had the cancer and was kept in the dark for months maybe causing more growth or spreading.

  3. scanned says:

    Family history is often not present, not because there is no family history, but because cancer was historically misdiagnosed or left untreated. So only probably family members in the last generation, perhaps two generations were properly screened for the possibility of cancer. And of course there are tons of cases where cancer is not genetic, but the result of an individual abnormality or a mutagenic agent. In either case additional testing is not a bad idea.

    You could confirm simply by doing the same test again, also in the cases of most aggressive cancers there are often other diagnostics besides biopsies. But even a biopsies is far far safer than the radical procedure. My mother had cancer, and like everyone she got a second opinion before proceeding with treatment, but her doctor did multiple tests (one at diagnoses and another before treatment). It makes sense since cancer often changes course that a pre surgery follow up be done. Obviously I was not there, so it may have been a time issue, perhaps they were trying to remove it as quick as possible because it was an aggressive form, I don’t think the doctor should be liable for this and face any lawsuits or anything. But I think it speaks volumes to the haste at which some medical decisions are made. I worked in a hospital and the doctors often made decisions instantly based on the results of single tests, tests that they treat as infallible.

    I too would rather be the woman with no boobs. The other woman got the short end of the stick on this. The article provided no follow up information on her, I hope they found and successfully treated her cancer.

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