Women believe that their physicians will understand the difference between a serious health problem and something that does not pose any risk to their health. A particular issue to which this apples is with breast cancer. Female patients count on doctors to run all appropriate tests whether it be physical breast examinations, a mammogram, an aspiration or a biopsy to diagnose any cancer that might be present in the earliest stage achievable. The presence of a lump in a breast raises concern immediately. This is where the doctor can do the right thing or the wrong thing. In general, doctors agree that the right thing is to do tests to discover whether that lump is cancerous. The reason most physicians acknowledge that this is the appropriate course of action is because it is not possible to make that conclusion based just performing a physical examination (regardless of whether it is coupled with other variables such as the woman’s age and family history).
Perhaps some 80% of breast associated changes are not the consequence of breast cancer. Further, the majority of new breast cancer cases arise in women who are older than fifty. It is thus not surprising that a number of doctors will diagnose a lump found in the breast, especially with a younger patient, as due to a cyst and not because of breast cancer. The chances are in favor of such a diagnosis.
Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story. In the event breast cancer is found while in its less early stages (for example, stage 0, stage I or stage II), the 5-year survival rate is usually over eighty percent. The 5-year survival rate is a a number that studies have shown to represent the percentage of patients who survive the cancer for a minimum five years subsequent to diagnosis. Therefore, a five-year survival rate above 80% means that, statistically, over 80 out of every 100 patients with a less advanced stage breast cancer will, given proper treatment, survive the disease for at least 5 years following detection.
If the breast cancer is not detected until it reaches stage III (generally regarding bigger tumors in the breast or a spread of the cancer to lymph nodes), the five-year survival rate drops to approximately 54%. With regard to stage IV (usually associated with a tumor that is bigger that 5 cm or the spread of the cancer to the bone or distant organs, such as the lungs), the five-year survival rate is around 20%.
Around twelve percent of women will get breast cancer in their life time. This year alone, approximately 190,000 women will be newly diagnosed with breast cancer. Tragically, more than 40,000 females will die because of breast cancer. How many of these women might survive their breast cancer if their doctors had looked into the finding of a mass in the breast or an abnormal finding on a clinical breast exam and had discovered the breast cancer earlier, prior to spread or metastasis?
The challenge is that a number of physicians behave like either that they can figure out whether a lump in a female’s breast is cancerous or benign simply by manual examination or that a woman under 50 with no family history of breast cancer is so unlikely to have breast cancer that there is no need to order any diagnostic tests to eliminate cancer if she had a lump in her breast. As most physicians would concur that finding a mass in a female’s breast should be followed by diagnostic testing, such as an untrasound, mammogram, aspiration or biopsy. Only by using one or more of these tests can cancer be safely ruled out
In the event that a physician concludes that a mass in a woman’s breast as simply a benign fibroid cyst based only on a clinical breast examination, that physician puts the patient in danger of not learning she has breast cancer until it spreads to an advanced, perhaps incurable, stage. Not performing appropriate diagnostic testing, including an imaging study such as a mammogram or ultrasound, or a sampling, such as a biopsy or aspiration, might amount to a departure from the accepted standard of medical care and might bring about a medical malpractice lawsuit.