Study finds even experienced radiologists may miss cancer signs

Every year, millions of Americans receive some kind of misdiagnosis. From failing to recognize important symptoms to neglecting to order appropriate tests, when a trusted health care professional makes a diagnostic mistake, the outcome can be devastating for the patient: physically, financially and emotionally.

Sometimes a practitioner may even overlook signs that should be obvious given his or her training. A recent psychological study found that a phenomenon known as ‘inattentional blindness’ may lead to radiologists missing significant abnormalities in patient scans.

How does inattentional blindness affect diagnostic reports?

Inattentional blindness happens when an individual who is looking for something specific fails to notice obvious but unexpected visual information.

In a recent study, researchers asked a group of radiologists with a range of experience levels to examine a chest CT scan and identify potential signs of lung cancer. Alarmingly, around one-third of the study participants overlooked an abnormal lymph node in the same scan, and two-thirds overlooked a significant breast mass abnormality: a potential sign of breast cancer.

Another report by Coverys Red Signal showed that misinterpretation of test results contributes to around 80% of radiology-related misdiagnosis claims. The most common types of cancer missed by clinicians include breast, pancreatic, lung and ovarian cancers.

What does misdiagnosis mean for patient health outcomes?

Cancer is often an aggressively progressive disease, making early and accurate diagnosis essential. Patients who have experienced a delayed or inaccurate diagnosis may be able to receive compensation if a health care practitioner’s negligence has caused irreparable harm.