The mammogram is a primary tool available to doctors to diagnose a female patient’s breast cancer when it is still in the early stages, thus saving the lives of these women. However physicians at times misread memmograms. This can happen by them either missing an abnormality that is present or interpreting it as benign. In the event that the physician misreads the mammogram the cancer can be undetected until a later mammogram or until a lump is found by a breast examination. This delay might be sufficient for the cancer to spread, lowering the chances that she will be able to keep the breast or survive the cancer.
As an example, look at the documented claim of a woman who had a routine mammogram and was informed that there was no indication of cancer. About 2 years later, she had another mammogram. This time the mammogram was read as displaying no change to the dilated duct from the earlier mammogram. However, the earlier mammogram was free of a dilated duct and hence the physicians did nothing to look into the suspicious change from the earlier, clear, mammogram. Her mammogram was misinterpreted and her cancer was not detected.
When the woman had a subsequent mammogram performed at a different hospital the next year, the doctor who read the mammogram documented a number of small nodular densities. The physician observed that these remained unchanged from the prior mammograms. But, the two past mammograms contained no evidence of nodular densities. Once again, her mammogram was misinterpreted and again her cancer was not found.
When the woman was finally diagnosed at a later date, she had stage 4 breast cancer that had metastasized. The main tumor was in the same location where the prior mammogram had been read as showing a dilated duct. The patient pursued a lawsuit against both physicians and hospitals.
The doctor and hospital that read the third mammogram as revealing small nodular densities reached a settlement for an unpublished sum in an amount less that the $2.0 million available in insurance coverage. The physician and hospital that incorrectly interpreted the previous mammogram would not settle for the full amount of the policy. They were willing to pay only a mere $125,000. The case went to trial where evidence was presented that had the mammogram not been incorrectly interpreted the cancer might have been found while only a Stage 1 cancer, which normally has a 5 year survival rate higher than ninety percent. The law firm that handled the claim reported that the jury gave the woman $12.0 million.
This lawsuit demonstrates various important points. To begin, two separate mammograms were misread by two different doctors at two different hospitals. Plus the two physicians attributed results to earlier mammograms which were not present in those earlier mammograms. It is tough to explain how this might have occurred unless the doctors both looked at a different patient’s mammogram as the comparison. But the chances of this happening twice at two different hospitals is extremely unlikely. However the degree of negligence that would be required otherwise is genuinely unexcusable. The jury seems to have agreed.