Woman Who Lost Jaw to False Cancer Diagnosis Deserves More Than an Apology

autosampler loaded with samplesWhen your doctor diagnoses you with anything -- from a certain kind of rash to a stomach bug -- the most common reaction is, well, acceptance. You say "thank you" and take the script they hand over, get it filled, or schedule that follow-up appointment or -- gulp! -- procedure they've recommended. But what if the diagnosis is completely, utterly wrong? Because paperwork or labwork has gotten all fouled up? Unfortunately, this happens much more frequently than the medical community would probably like to admit. 

Consider what recently happened to a 63-year-old woman in New Zealand. She was suffering facial swelling and sinus infections after having a tooth implant a year prior, so her oral surgeon took an oral biopsy sample, which he had tested for mouth cancer. The sample turned up positive -- or so they thought ...


And so, the woman underwent a hemimaxillectomy to remove the right side of her upper jaw. They used bone and artery veins from her lower leg to reconstruct her jaw. She also suffered an infection at the donor site in her leg and had trouble walking. But here's the clincher: She was later informed that the tissue taken during the surgery showed no sign of cancer and her initial specimen had been swapped with another patient when the pathologist dropped the two vials on the floor! Ahh!

Can you imagine? What a nightmare ... The patient's been apologized to, but sheesh -- I'd say she deserves more than that. A boatload of compensation from the lab or her oral surgeon is more like it! This poor woman. And what makes it even more troubling is that this is the sixth woman that a New Zealand newspaper has discovered to be affected by errors made in labs since they started an investigation a month ago!

One pathologist admitted he had made an error which resulted in a woman unnecessarily having her breast removed. He blamed the fact that pathologists were under pressure to meet a five-day deadline for breast cancer diagnosis when they really needed 10 days. Ugh! And make no mistake -- this kind of thing is common in the U.S., too.

Seems like there's a case for patients to be even more self-aware, critical of diagnoses, and acting as their own advocates. And when it comes to something as serious as cancer, second opinions should be a given.

How freaky is this? Do you usually get a second opinion?

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