Cancer or Something Else? How Early Symptoms Can Be Misdiagnosed

The sooner a patient’s cancer is detected, the better their chances of fighting it before it causes widespread harm. Unfortunately, detecting cancer early can be difficult due to early symptoms often resembling those of other, less serious health issues. A medical provider might notice those early symptoms but misdiagnose cancer entirely.

What are some of the earliest symptoms of cancer and how can they be misdiagnosed?

  • Bloody stools: When a patient reports experiencing bloody stools, most doctors will assume there must be an ulcer or polyp somewhere in the patient’s gastrointestinal tract. In many cases, they are correct, but not always. Some forms of cancer can cause blood collection in the GI tract that is expelled as bodily waste. A doctor should order comprehensive tests, like using a GI camera system, to verify what is causing a patient’s symptoms.
  • Bodily fatigue: The persistent feeling of exhaustion is one of the most common cancer symptoms. Unfortunately, it is also a common symptom in many other types of health issues. Everything from a poor diet to muscle damage can cause a patient to feel fatigued around-the-clock because demanding rest is a simple way the body can try to fight and repair a problem.
  • Chronic cough: Lung cancer, in particular, can often be predicted and diagnosed when a patient has a chronic cough. A doctor could misdiagnose cancer as a symptom of something less dangerous, though, like the common cold. When a patient has a chronic cough, the doctor should use various tests to look for growths or damage in the lungs. A chest x-ray, for example, could identify an abnormality and prove that the cough is not being caused by an annoying cold.
  • Lost appetite: Patients can lose their appetite for a variety of reasons, including depression, influenza, dietary changes, insomnia, etc. Appetite loss is also a symptom of different types of cancer. For example, most cancers will impact a patient’s metabolism to some degree, which can deregulate when the body decides it is hungry. Or a cancerous growth in the abdomen could put pressure on the stomach, tricking the patient into thinking they are too full to eat.
  • Night sweats: Women going through menopause will often experience night sweats, which can also be an early sign of cancer. Doctors working with middle-aged women need to be aware that symptoms cannot be blamed on menopause and then set aside. Thorough testing for any symptom is still required.
  • Persistent fever: A bodily temperature at or above 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit is almost guaranteed to be a fever in anyone. Fevers are the body’s natural reaction to most infections and illnesses, which includes cancer. Doctors may misdiagnose a persistent fever caused by cancer as one caused by a stubborn virus and prescribe their patients antibiotics without considering any other type of diagnostic.
  • Unexpected weight loss: Another common symptom is unexpected or unexplained weight loss. Metabolism changes can cause rapid weight loss, as can various illnesses. However, cancer causes weight loss in approximately 40% of its patients. The likelihood of quick and seemingly irreversible weight loss being caused by cancer is too high for a doctor to excuse as something else. Tests designed to detect cancer early should be ordered.

Cancer Misdiagnosis Lawsuits

Although cancer can be difficult to diagnose, especially in its early stages, it serves as no excuse for a doctor’s egregious negligence that leads to a misdiagnosis or no diagnosis at all. If your cancer was diagnosed later in its development than it would have had you been treated by another doctor, then you should consider filing a medical malpractice claim in pursuit of fair compensation.

At Golomb & Honik, P.C., we have focused much of our practice on malpractice claims, especially those involving cancer misdiagnoses. Please call us at (215) 278-4449 to schedule an initial consultation with our legal team in Philadelphia.

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