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UK Woman Endures Two-Year Cancer Misdiagnosis

female patient with doctor 2After beating cervical cancer at the young age of 32, Denise Clark was relieved to finally have her life back on track. But in 2011, she was heartbroken to learn that doctors had discovered a large cancerous mass in her pelvic area. The grim diagnosis was reported by physicians at The Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, where the UK woman was told there was nothing more they could do. Completely debilitated by the terminal diagnosis, Clark began researching alternatives to chemotherapy and spent a month (and more than $16,000 USD) at a clinic in Spain that specializes in alternative healing methods.

But as two long years passed with Clark planning her impending funeral and saying goodbye to her boys, she couldn’t help but notice she was feeling exceptionally normal. Suspicious of a diagnostic error, she demanded more tests be performed and was shocked by the results – the pelvic mass was not a cancerous tumor, but damage from her prior radiation treatments.

Like other victims of cancer misdiagnosis, Clark took legal action and recently settled her claim for a “high five figure” sum with the NHS Grampian, one of Scotland’s regional health boards that services Aberdeen and Moray residents.

Physical & emotional consequences of a cancer misdiagnosis

Whether a patient is told they have cancer when they don’t or vice versa, this type of misdiagnosis always carries grave emotional, physical and financial burdens. If a cancer diagnosis is delayed, the tumor may have time to metastasize, spreading rapidly to other parts of the body. In the case of Denise Clark, she fortunately avoided unnecessary cancer treatment with radiation or chemo, but was so distraught by the prospect of her untimely death that she endured months of psychological agony.

“I planned my funeral and wrote farewell notes to my boys. It was heartbreaking but I had to do it for my family. No one should have to do that if they don’t need to…Hearing them say it was a mistake was amazing  – but it doesn’t give us back the two years of our lives that were made absolute hell,” Clarke told the UK Daily Mail Online.

She will never get back those two nightmarish years of her life and believes that the scary ordeal caused her two young sons to grow up too quickly. On top of the emotional anguish, Clark also racked up major debts in her search for alternative cancer treatments. Her relationship with her spouse began to deteriorate under the toll of her poor health, and ultimately broke down completely.

Despite such obvious setbacks, Denise Clark maintains a sunny outlook on life, saying “All I want now is to see my boys grow up, and watch my babies become the men I know they will be.”

Avoiding medical misdiagnosis

Reports of diagnostic mistakes are increasingly common, with rates as high as 10 to 15 percent according to some studies.  A recent review of malpractice claims found that breast cancer, heart attack, appendicitis, colon and lung cancer were the top conditions most frequently misdiagnosed in family medicine.

Patients can help minimize the risk of a cancer misdiagnosis or other diagnostic mistake by:

  1. Knowing their medical history
  2. Bringing copies of all prior blood work, MRIs, and other test results
  3. Give detailed descriptions of each symptom
  4. Bring a thorough list of all medications (both prescription and OTC) being taken
  5. Ask your physician what to expect after being diagnosed
  6. Ask plenty of follow up questions and for a differential diagnosis
  7. Seek a second opinion