Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States and tends to get a lot of attention in October during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While raising awareness of the disease and promoting prevention are of utmost importance, often there is little light shed upon the sometimes scary and overwhelming process that patients go through when being diagnosed with breast cancer, and the steps they can take to arm themselves throughout the process.
The most common method used to detect breast cancer is a mammogram, typically performed once a year in women over the age of 40. As a result of routine mammography screening, approximately 1.6 million biopsies are performed to determine whether a suspicious lump or mass is cancerous or benign (non-cancerous). Without regular mammograms, many breast cancer patients would delay diagnosis and therefore delay treatments. Regular breast exams are also important in identifying lumps or masses.
During a breast biopsy the physician obtains a microscopic tissue sample of the mass that is then sent to a laboratory and tested. Many patients are unaware that after their physician takes a biopsy sample, the tissue sample moves through a complex 20-step process to determine whether cancerous cells are present and, if so, what stage of cancer is present.
After a biopsy sample is collected, which is essential to the process of ensuring that the patient receives the right diagnosis, you should take a DNA test. With the complexity of the 20-step biopsy process executed on a large scale, the risk of patient’s samples being misidentified due to mislabeling, switching or contamination is alarming.
These errors occur in approximately 1 in every 100 surgical biopsies performed in the U.S. If left undetected, these mistakes can lead to misdiagnoses, patients receiving treatment for cancer they do not have, or the delay of life-saving treatment in patients with cancer. To prevent these types of issues and help ensure that the correct biopsy diagnoses are provided to the correct patients, physicians have started using the know error® system for breast biopsies.
Here’s how the system works: At the time of the biopsy, the physician obtains a painless cheek swab to serve as a reference sample of the patient’s DNA. If cancer is detected in the biopsy sample, the DNA of the cancerous mass is then compared against the DNA in the supplied cheek swab to ensure that the results are reported to the correct individual. This confirmation ensures the identity of the patient being diagnosed, allowing physicians to proceed confidently with treatment recommendations.
In the case that you do receive a positive cancer diagnosis having a strong support system is important. Friends, family or members of a support group can help encourage you and motivate you during this often difficult time. Support groups can also provide you with an outlet to voice your feelings to people who can relate to you and are going through similar circumstances. Talk to your doctor who can help you find support groups in your area.
Do not start treatment unless you are 100% positive you received your own biopsy result and diagnosis
Recently, there was a case where a woman received six radiation treatments before learning she had been incorrectly diagnosed with breast cancer. The misdiagnosis was the result of a laboratory error in which her biopsy was contaminated with another patient’s cancerous samples. These cases have a profound impact on the physical and emotional well-being of multiple patients, not to mention significant legal and financial ramifications as well.
If you think you may have a lump or a mass, do not wait to go see a doctor. It is always safer to go to the doctor for a check-up, even if it turns out to be benign. If a patient waits because they fear the results of an exam, it could end up causing more harm if the mass is, in fact, malignant. Waiting to see a doctor means that a cancer could be at a more advanced stage and the treatment has been delayed.
When it comes to your health, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
The diagnosis and cancer treatment processes can be very difficult for patients and their loved ones, both physically and emotionally. Make sure that you feel fully comfortable speaking with your doctors about any questions, fears, ailments or concerns you may have. The patient should be a doctor’s main priority. If you feel as if they do not listen or you cannot communicate with them effectively, find a doctor that is willing to do so. Trust and confidence in your physician during this experience are imperative.
Receiving a positive cancer diagnosis is life-changing. There are many different treatment options available and deciding which one is right for you is very important. You should be completely comfortable with whichever path of treatment you pursue. Even if you trust your doctor’s diagnosis and suggestions, it never hurts to get a second opinion from another source.
If you or a loved one is going through this difficult process, talk to your physician about steps that can be taken to ensure you receive your confirmed biopsy results. With the emotional, life-changing impact a cancer diagnosis has on an individual, it’s important to ensure that no woman incorrectly hears the four dreaded words—you have breast cancer.
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