Pancreatic cancer is one of the most misdiagnosed or undetected diseases. According to a study from the University of Utah, doctors frequently mistake it for gall bladder disease, acid reflux and peptic ulcer disease. These misdiagnoses result in longer treatment periods and higher rates of late-stage cancer for the affected patients. This study seems to suggest that, unfortunately, continuing medical education in this particular area is insufficient.
As the pancreas slowly fails, patients experience weight loss, stomach pain, fatigue and liver failure. What is especially dangerous is that pancreatic cancer develops very quickly, so a misdiagnosis could be fatal. It is therefore critical that doctors catch this cancer as early possible.
The study compared the records of 313 patients who suffered from pancreatic cancer. It compared the rate of immediate diagnosis versus diagnosis that took several tests. The study found that 119, or 31.3 percent, of those patients were misdiagnosed with another illness. Moreover, 38 misdiagnosed cases resulted in needless surgeries, like gallbladder removal.
As a result, misdiagnosed patients suffer higher rates of pain, nausea, vomiting, weight loss and pancreatitis. Moreover with a disease in which every day and hour matters, misdiagnosed patients took an average of three and a half months to be correctly treated versus just over two weeks for correctly diagnosed patients.
Those longer diagnosis and treatment periods also meant that late-stage cancer was more prevalent among the misdiagnosed group. The study found that nearly 40 percent of misdiagnosed patients had later stage pancreatic cancer versus only 23.7 percent of patients correctly diagnosed. Additionally, correctly diagnosed patients had higher rates of early cancer (Stage I and II) versus lower rates of early cancer for misdiagnosed patients. The study tends to suggest that misdiagnosed patients develop late-stage cancer at alarmingly higher rates than correctly diagnosed patients.
Doctors are given an unenviable task. Society asks them to solve medical mysteries without directly observing them. Doctors rely on intuition, data, education and indirect tests to treat patients. This system of treatment means that some patients will be misdiagnosed, it is inevitable.
However studies like these can serve as a wake-up call for the medical community. More data means that doctors should adjust their treatment methods to account for these errors. Pancreatic cancer does not allow doctors a lot of room for error.