We all know that mistakes happen. After all, we’re only human.
But where biopsies are concerned, mistakes look like they’re becoming an epidemic.
Your biopsy can easily be confused with someone else’s, or it can be misread entirely, giving you a dreaded diagnosis of cancer when you don’t have it.
And experts have become so blasé over these kinds of mistakes that you would think we’re talking about getting served the wrong dish in a restaurant instead of losing a body part!
Which is why you need to take some simple precautions before you’re wheeled into the operating room or radiation facility for a cancer you may not actually have.
Eduvigis Rodriguez said she didn’t know if she should be thanking God or breaking down in tears.
Rodriguez had gotten the terrible news that she had invasive breast cancer and was rushed into a surgery that removed her left breast.
And when the 51-year-old New Yorker found out she didn’t have cancer after all — not a trace of it — she probably did both.
That unnecessary mastectomy happened despite the hospital where the procedure took place having safeguards to prevent that kind of error.
But there was even a slip-up with those. (More on that in a second.)
Frank Barerra was luckier. As he was being prepped for surgery to have his prostate removed — literally with an IV in his arm — a last-minute double check on his biopsy revealed he was perfectly healthy.
Barerra said it was like “waking up from a bad dream.”
But those “bad dreams” are more like a living nightmare.
Former president of the American College of Radiology Dr. Arl Van Moore said that most patients who get a cancer diagnosis are rarely sent anywhere for a second opinion.
“You wouldn’t question your [medical] team,” he said.
Well, I don’t know what era Dr. Van Moore is living in, but yes, you can and should question your care when risky, life-altering treatments are being proposed!
Past studies on lab work mix-ups found cases of biopsies being mislabeled, totally switched, and even partially switched (meaning cells from one patient got mixed in with someone else’s sample).
And how many mistakes a lab makes has a lot to do with the number of specimens that it handles. In the world of reading biopsies, bigger is not necessarily better.
It’s clear that the usual way these biopsies are handled sometimes just isn’t enough.
So, one alternative solution involves creating a barcode that uniquely identifies you from a DNA sample swabbed from your mouth. That code is attached to your biopsy, and if it comes back positive for cancer, those cancer cells are cross-referenced against your own DNA to make sure there hasn’t been a mix-up.
That’s the good news in preventing lab errors.
The bad news is that DNA fingerprinting safeguard will cost you around $300 out of pocket, as Medicare and many private insurance companies don’t cover it.
That, however, may be changing, at least for guys. In May, legislation was introduced that would force Medicare to cover that DNA double check for all prostate biopsies.
But don’t hold your breath waiting. Even if and when that comes about, it will still be leaving ladies in the lurch. That’s why you need to take matters into your own hands by following these two safeguards:
#1: Get a second opinion! I know you’ve heard that one before, but in this case I’m talking about a second read on that biopsy.
#2: If your biopsy was taken at a different location than where you’re scheduled for surgery or treatment, make sure an expert in your hospital has reviewed it. That simple question would have saved Eduvigis Rodriguez a whole lot of pain and suffering.
Most of all, never think that asking any question — especially if it’s for a second opinion — is an insult to your doctor or any other health professional.
Because what’s even worse than being told you have cancer is being treated for it when you don’t.
And even if that cancer diagnosis is correct, don’t rush into risky treatments without exploring your options. For guys, that can mean doing “active surveillance” (something we’ve reported a lot on lately) instead of having your prostate removed or undergoing radiation therapy.
“The lab says it’s cancer. But sometimes the lab is wrong.” Gina Kolata, June 26, 2017, The New York Times, nytimes.com