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What You Can Do About Your Lung Cancer Misdiagnosis


When you or your loved one gets diagnosed with lung cancer, it is a terrifying and life-changing event. According to the American Cancer society, with early detection and improved treatment options, the survival rate of this cancer may be better than the numbers illustrate. However, when lung cancer gets misdiagnosed, the harm that may result can be catastrophic.

This article will discuss what lung cancer is, symptoms, ways to test for it, types of misdiagnosis that can occur, and what you can do to exercise your rights in the legal system.

Proving Medical Malpractice for Lung Cancer Misdiagnosis

An experienced medical malpractice attorney helps you determine if you potentially have a medical malpractice cause of action by reviewing the facts and circumstances of your unique case along with medical experts. The legal team at The Villari Firm reviews medical records, secures witness testimony, and confronts the doctors and hospitals to hold them accountable while gathering other documentation and evidence along with your explanation of what you experienced to determine if the harm that you suffered rises to the level of legal malpractice.

How Lung Cancer Gets Misdiagnosed

The National Law Review reports that Lung Cancer is one of the most misdiagnosed cancers in the USA and the longer lung cancer goes misdiagnosed the worse the patient’s prognosis becomes. In general it is a slow growing cancer, sometimes with no initial symptoms and unfortunately at other times, its symptoms are mistaken for another condition.

Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Symptoms of Lung Cancer can include:

  • Persistent cough
  • Changes in your voice/hoarseness
  • Wheezing type breathing
  • Shortness of breath/Labored breathing
  • Unintentional/Unexplained weight loss
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain, shoulder pain, rib cage pain
  • Changes in the palms of your hands or “tripe palms” (skin in the palm thickens and becomes white with pronounced folds)
  • Changes in mood, oftentimes unexplained irritability
  • Enlarged Lymph Nodes
  • Chronic Lung Infections such as Pneumonia, Bronchitis
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Fatigue/Weakness

Many of the above listed examples are also symptoms of other disorders such as heart disease, gastric issues, asthma, arthritis, psychiatric disorders and more. While many of these symptoms may correlate with conditions other than lung cancer, reporting your symptoms to your doctor when you first have them can lead to early detection and a better prognosis. A doctor following the standard of care will listen closely to the patient’s symptoms, take a complete medical history (including family history) and order relevant tests. In some cases, immediate treatment of one or more of the symptoms may begin. The doctor evaluates the effectiveness of the treatment as a diagnostic also.

Types of Lung Cancer

In general, there are two types of lung cancer; small cell and non-small cell. According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is responsible for 10-15 percent of the cases while non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is responsible for 80-85% of lung cancer cases.

SCLC gets its name from the small, oval shaped cancer cells that sometimes resemble oats when viewed under a laboratory microscope. This can be an aggressive cancer that can spread quickly to other parts of the body.

NSCLC are the most common form of lung cancer. In general, it is a slower growing cancer that shows few or even no symptoms until the advanced stages. Types of non-small cell cancers can include:

  • Adenocarcinoma – this is the most common of the non-small cell lung cancers and generally begins in the mucus producing areas of the lung or “alveoli” which are small air spaces in the lungs where carbon dioxide leaves the blood and oxygen enters it.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma – this type of lung cancer generally begins in the top layer of cells that line the large airways or “bronchi”
  • Large Cell Carcinoma – this type of lung cancer can be in any part of the lungs and is characterized by the large and irregular shape of its cells when viewed under a laboratory microscope. Unlike other NSCLC, large cell carcinoma can grow and spread rapidly.

Methods of Diagnosing Lung Cancer

There are a number of tests that a doctor may order once made aware of your symptoms. Many times these tests are not specific to only detecting lung cancer but may be ordered for other conditions that the doctor may want to rule out. Multiple types of these procedures may be utilized if your doctor suspects lung cancer.


Imaging is the process of taking pictures of the inside of the body to detect lung abnormalities. Common types of imaging include X-Rays, Ultrasound, CT (Computerized Tomography) Scans, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and PET (Positron Emission Tomography) Scans. Because of the differences in the machines, they all can show the same parts of the body but in different ways. This can be very helpful in the diagnosis.

Sputum Tests

Sputum tests analyze lung secretions or phlegm to look for cancerous cells.It is also common to use this type of test to diagnose other conditions such as tuberculosis. In this test, the patient typically “coughs up” the sample and it is examined under a laboratory microscope to identify possible cancer cells. More than one sample may be required over a period of days.


A bronchoscopy is a procedure which allows a doctor to look inside the air passages of your lungs. Most commonly performed with a thin flexible tube that has a camera at the tip (called a bronchoscope), a doctor looks down the throat of the patient into the air passages of the lungs. The doctor is able to record images using the camera and video screen. During a bronchoscopy suspect tissue can be removed for a biopsy. This procedure is commonly used for diagnosing multiple ailments, not only lung cancer.


A biopsy is the removal of suspicious cells or tissues for examination by a pathologist. In general, a pathologist is a scientist who studies the cause and effect of diseases. The pathologist reports their findings after studying the sample in their laboratory. This is a routine procedure in diagnosing mostly any cancer as it can differentiate cancerous from non-cancerous cells.

Signs of Misdiagnosed Lung Cancer

If symptoms do not lessen or go away, or new ones appear, this can be a sign of lung cancer misdiagnosis. In the event you seek a second opinion and the new doctor orders, then acts upon a battery of tests you were not initially given, resulting in a diagnosis of lung cancer, you may have been initially misdiagnosed.

Lung Cancer Diagnosed as Something Else

As the symptoms of lung cancer may also be the same or similar for another condition, your lung cancer may have been diagnosed as and potentially treated for that other condition. For example, a persistent cough may have the same treatment as bronchitis when in actuality it was lung cancer. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can review your case with their medical experts to help you determine if an actionable malpractice case of misdiagnosed lung cancer may have occurred.

Treatment for Incorrect Illness or Condition

When misdiagnosis happens, you might have to endure unnecessary treatments or take harmful medicine, and most importantly, you will be wasting precious time receiving treatment for the wrong issue. With misdiagnosed lung cancer, the victim can potentially be worse off than if they had never sought treatment.

Doctor Failed to Address All Evidence

Doctors are legally and ethically responsible for providing a reasonable standard of care to their patients. This can include taking a complete patient history (including a family history), ordering correct tests and ensuring the test results are read, acted upon, and reported to the patient. If a doctor did not follow the standard of care and the patient was harmed, there may be grounds for a medical malpractice action.

How Medical Malpractice Lawyer Helps

An experienced medical malpractice attorney will listen as you explain the life-changing events that you have experienced, analyze the facts of your case, consult with respected experts, and work directly with you to develop the best possible strategy for your case. If you believe you’ve experienced medical malpractice regarding your lung cancer diagnosis, contact The Villari Firm.

Summary of Lung Cancer Misdiagnosis & What to Do Next

Lung cancer is an extremely serious issue. If you believe that you or a family member experienced a lung cancer misdiagnosis, The Villari Firm offers a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss the facts of your case. With more than two decades of experience in fighting for the rights of medical malpractice patients, Heidi Villari and her team want to help you seek justice.

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