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How can doctors miss cancer?

| May 6, 2018 | blog

Cancer is a leading killer in the United States. Many symptoms are well-known, just to the general public. Even so, medical professionals with years of training and experience often miss the signs.

How does it happen? There are a multitude of reasons. Sometimes, it’s just a perfect storm for the patient, and that late diagnosis can cause the disease to turn deadly.

Below are a few examples, taken from one woman’s story about how her sister got cancer and eventually passed away.


A crucial point in the woman’s story is that she was significantly overweight. When the pounds started to drop, people actually complimented her on her success. They were proud of her for dropping 60 pounds, even though she said that she was not making any effort to lose weight — a sign that something was seriously wrong.

Her weight loss actually stemmed from serious pain she’d been experiencing. It stripped her of her appetite. She spent months barely feeling like eating meals, and the pounds fell away.

If she had started out at 120 pounds, would doctors have taken her more seriously? After all, if she dropped down to 80 pounds, she’d look ill. In her case, it just made her look more healthy, but that was deceptive.

Doctor bias

The woman’s sister believes that doctors hold biases against people who are overweight. They’ll assume that any physical issues stem from obesity. While that may be the case with some patients, it is clearly not always the case. Telling someone to eat better and change one’s diet — which happened to her sister — does not get that person any closer to a cure.


The woman herself, before she passed away, said that one doctor thought that she was blowing things out of proportion because she was “a fat, complaining older woman.” She was just 59 years old, but the doctor perhaps assumed the natural impact of aging was harder on her body, and did nothing.

Drug addiction

Still another doctor listened to her talk about the pain, bleeding and weight loss, and still just thought she was addicted to opiates. That doctor would not give her any serious treatment. Did the doctor see her as undisciplined because of her weight and make unfair assumptions?

Fatal results

By the time medical professionals found the real problem, her tumor was as big as a volleyball. Cancer had spread from there into her internal organs. It quickly took her life.

When a doctor misses a diagnosis, the patient can die as a result. Issues like cancer have far higher survival rates when found early. Any delay is potentially deadly, and families who lose loved ones need to know all of their options.