Ask the Doctor
March 19, 2013

I was diagnosed with breast cancer. What went wrong?

Dear Doc,

My daughter invited me to Canada for vacation and took me to her doctor for a general check-up. I was told that my mammogram had obvious changes and after further investigations I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I have been doing annual mammograms, as recently as six months prior and I was always assured that they were okay. What could have gone wrong?{{more}}


Dear Serena,

I am sorry to hear about your diagnosis, but also happy to know that you have had intervention.

With the knowledge that you had a recent mammogram that was considered normal, there are a few questions to consider.

Was the actual X-ray that was reported on yours? There are situations where the film was of someone else and reported as yours by accident. To avoid this from happening, the person reporting must ensure that the name, age, and the date of X-ray is endorsed on the film.

The quality of the X-ray must be investigated. When a mammogram is done, it must show all possible breast tissue, along with the adjacent no-breast tissue, to ensure that nothing is missed. The actual X-ray must not be too dark or clear and there must not be any artifacts that can be misread as part of the breasts.

Was there comparison between previous mammograms that could have demonstrated present changes in the breasts? If it is the first mammogram, there will be none available for comparison.

Could this have been a fast growing cancer that was not seen six months prior? This is possible, depending on the nature of the cancer.

Was the quality of the reporting on the mammogram poor? We must never forget that there could be a mistake in reporting on the findings by the radiologist. Making a mistake on diagnosing obvious findings can happen. What is important is that there should be an internal review of drafted reports on mammograms to ensure that they are noted before the final reports.

What I mention above is an overview of what everyone in the practice of medicine is aware of and hopefully puts into practice.


SVG Cancer Society,

P.O. Box 709, Kingstown.