Every October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month splashes pink across the globe. From fundraising walks and races to the cleats and gloves worn by NFL players, to the world-famous landmarks illuminated in pink, you don’t need to look very far to find a color-coded reminder that catching the disease early can make all the difference.
More than 220,000 women and 2,000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Nearly 40,000 people will die of the disease. Some of those deaths are the result of breast cancer misdiagnosis or late diagnosis.
Early detection offers patients the best chance of survival. Patients who are diagnosed with breast cancer early and receive treatment before it spreads have a 10-year survival rate of 98 percent.
Even if discovered in stage 2, 10-year survival rates for patients who receive optimal treatment can be as high as 90 percent, depending on the size and location of the tumor. Once cancer reaches stage four and metastasizes, it becomes much more difficult to treat.
M, a 40-year-old female with a family history of breast cancer, approached her doctor complaining of tenderness and a mass in her left breast. She had undergone a mammogram two years prior with a negative result. M’s doctor examined her, told her that her family history of breast cancer should be of no concern, and recommended a follow-up examination in two years. At M’s insistence, the doctor referred her for another mammogram. The radiologist read M’s mammogram as normal.
A year later, M began experiencing back pain that didn’t respond to various forms of treatment. An MRI revealed that she had metastatic breast cancer. A jury ruled that M’s doctors failed to identify and diagnose her cancer in an earlier, more treatable stage, and awarded her $12.8 million.
But just because breast cancer is more than 100 times more common in women than in men doesn’t mean men are immune.
C, a 79-year-old male, complained to his doctor that he felt a palpable mass in his left breast. Noting the mass, C’s doctor ordered a bilateral mammogram and ultrasound. The tests revealed increased density and calcification in the left breast as compared to the right, but the radiologist saw no evidence of a mass and delivered the results of the tests as negative. Neither the radiologist nor C’s doctor referred him to a breast surgeon or ordered a biopsy.
Nearly four years later, C again complained to his doctor of worsening symptoms in his left breast, including a larger mass than the one he’d noticed before. This time, a mammogram revealed two separate, solid masses, and a subsequent biopsy showed moderately differentiated infiltrating ductal carcinoma. A full-body PET-CT further revealed that the disease had metastasized, and spread to C’s spine and liver. C’s family pursued action against his doctors and the matter was settled out of court for a significant but confidential amount.
Men who have a family history of breast cancer, or who carry a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are at an increased risk to develop the disease. Other risk factors for men include age, radiation exposure, heavy alcohol consumption, liver disease, Klinefelter syndrome, estrogen treatment, obesity and testicular conditions.
Learn more about breast cancer:
- Breast Cancer Awareness Month
- American Cancer Society
- National Cancer Institute
- Prevent Cancer Foundation
- Susan G. Komen for the Cure
If you or someone in your family is suffering from breast cancer that initially went undiagnosed, please contact our office.