Questions Persist Following Misdiagnosis of UK Man


41-year-old Darren Plant of North Yorkshire, U.K., just dodged a bullet that never should have been fired: His doctors told him he had a deadly form of lymphoma and had just months to live – when he didn't have lymphoma at all.

The story appeared in The Northern Echo, a news publication serving parts of the United Kingdom, and like Blackburn Lancanshire, the story is full of holes.

After a lump appeared in Plant's neck, his doctors at James Cook Hospital – a health care facility noted for its top-notch cancer care – informed him that he had a subtype of lymphoma that was so aggressive that without treatment he would be dead within three months, and even with treatment, he stood at best a 50/50 chance.

For me, what comes to mind is something like Burkitt's lymphoma, but even if that is wrong, it would in any case have to be a rare subtype, because the most common subtypes generally don't act like this.

But where did they get the information? A biopsy? If they did a biopsy, how could they possibly get it wrong? Yet if they didn't, how could they possibly come up with that diagnosis? Listen to the hospital's medical director explain the blunder:

There is no single test that can accurately diagnose cancer and a complete evaluation of a patient usually requires a thorough history and physical examination along with a number of diagnostic tests, as often other conditions can mimic the symptoms of cancer.

"A complete evaluation usually requires..." I infer from this that doctors did not perform a complete evaluation, or anything resembling one. So how did this man come so close to starting totally unnecessary chemotherapy?

If I were him, I would get a second opinion. Sure, it's a relief that they're now saying he never had cancer, but what makes them so sure they're right this time?

A Chilling Takeaway

The chilling takeaway from this story is this almost impossible-to-accept reality: We don't like to imagine it, but it is a fact that thousands and thousands of people are misdiagnosed with (or without) cancer every year, and that some of those people who were mistakenly diagnosed with cancer actually undergo the aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatment prescribed. How many? No idea. But it happens. Two years ago the New York Times reported on a woman diagnosed with breast cancer who underwent a mastectomy only to learn that the pathologist made a mistake – that she never had breast cancer.

James Cook Hospital apologized to Plant and paid him ten thousand pounds. Should he hire an attorney and pursue a bigger settlement?

Of course he should. A proper investigation is necessary to see to it that this doesn't happen again. The people whom the hospital serves deserve at least that much.

[Image Copyright: Mick Garratt, licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Agreement]

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