Where’d your boobs go?

October 5, 2007

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.