Lung Cancer Misdiagnosis

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancerous death in the U.S. The disease claims more lives than breast, ovarian, colon and prostate cancers combined each year.

More than 209,000 lung cancer diagnoses are made each year. Of those people, just over 110,000 were men and just over 97,000 women. Sadly, treatment rates are low, and more than 156,950 people die from the disease. Early detection improves the survival rate.

During the 1920s, cigarette advertising increased which presumably led to more men smoking. Then, 20 years later, the frequency of lung cancer increased in men. Then, in the 1940s, more women began smoking and 20 years after that, there was a dramatic increase in the occurrence of cancer in the lungs in women.

Lung Cancer Types

There are three types of lung cancer:

  1. Non-Small Cell – Around 85% of all diagnoses are of non-small cell lung cancer.
  2. Small Cell – Approximately 10 – 15% of all lung cancer diagnoses are of small cell or oat cell cancer.
  3. Lung Carcinoid Tumor – This is a rare type of lung cancer affecting less than 5% of affected patients. It progresses slowly and does not spread to other areas.

Usually, there are no signs or symptoms of this type of cancer. When signs and symptoms, do occur it is usually in the late stages of cancer. Signs and symptoms include:

  • A chronic cough or a cough that won’t go away
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Hoarseness
  • Chest pain

Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer.

Not only is there an increased risk of developing this type of cancer among those who smoke, those who inhale second-hand smoke are also at greater risk. Frequent radon gas exposure can also increase the risk of developing this type of cancer. A family history also significantly raises the odds of developing it yourself.

Biopsies and bronchoscopies are procedures used to diagnose lung cancer. These two procedures allow doctors to not only detect cancerous cells present in the lungs but also determine the type of cancer.

How Is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?

There are several signs and symptoms that could indicate that you have cancer of the lungs. If your physical exam reveals any of the following, your physician could suspect that you have cancer in the lung.

  1. Mass in abdomen
  2. Abnormal lung sounds
  3. Unequal pupils
  4. Swollen lymph nodes
  5. Rounding fingernails
  6. Weak/difficulty breathing
  7. Droopy eyelids
  8. Facial swelling

Additionally, some types of cancer in the lungs cause abnormally high levels of certain substances or hormones in the blood, such as calcium. If an individual has this particular symptom, and there are no other obvious causes, the physician should consider cancer of the lungs as a diagnosis.

Lung cancer, just like other cancers, can easily spread to other parts of the body such as liver, bones, adrenal glands, or even the brain. Even though cancer in the lungs could be found in a different location of the body, it is still considered lung cancer if evidence shows that it originated in the lungs.

Is It Possible for Lung Cancer to Be Misdiagnosed?

Since most people display few to no symptoms of lung cancer in its early stages, when it’s the most treatable and preventable, it’s easy to miss this diagnosis.

In some cases, it is possible for a diagnosis of cancer of the lungs to be delayed or even missed because it could be confused with other conditions, or the symptoms assumed to be indicative of other conditions such as COPD, pneumonia, asthma, or bronchitis. Additionally, if cancer of the lung occurs along with these other conditions, it could be missed. If you are being treated for any of these conditions and the symptoms are continuing, you should notify your physician and seek prompt medical attention.

Cancer of the lung malpractice suits ranks fourth overall in malpractice lawsuits. Typically, the claim is that the physician failed to diagnose cancer early enough that it could be treated properly. These suits argue that since the physician did not identify the specific symptoms and diagnose cancer through testing such as chest x-rays and others, the cancer was able to metastasize- or spread- to the rest of the body.

Were You Misdiagnosed?

If your physician misdiagnosed your cancer of the lung- or missed your diagnosis- then you may have a malpractice claim. You will need to contact another physician for a second opinion to start with. Then, you will need to write your original physician a letter requesting letting them know. Finally, you will need to file a claim with the courts and find out how and when the physician will be notified of the lawsuit.


  1. Right Diagnosis
  3. Mayo Clinic