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Study: Breast biopsies often misinterpreted

On Behalf of | Oct 29, 2015 | Failure to Diagnose |

Every year, it is estimated that about 1.6 million women undergo a breast biopsy in the United States, according to The New York Times. However, a new study shows that pathologists may not be reading the results of these biopsies correctly. This can put women in New York and elsewhere at risk of receiving the wrong type of treatment or no treatment at all.

The study involved eight states, 115 pathologists and an additional panel consisting of three pathologists who were considered experts in the field of breast pathology. Over a seven-year period, the study examined 240 biopsy slides with the purpose of comparing the findings of the panel against those of the other pathologists.

When the results were compiled and examined, 13 percent of the slides were incorrectly identified as abnormal when they were actually normal. More concerning, was the discrepancies found in slides which crossed into a gray area of diagnosis. These included situations where abnormal cells had formed within the breast’s milk duct, CBS Boston explains. The state pathologists misdiagnosed 16 percent of these slides containing this type of cell, a condition known as DCIS. Pathologists diagnosed 3 percent of the slides as showing invasive cancer and 13 percent of the other slides as showing a less serious condition when the expert panel determined the opposite.

The results were even worse when it came to diagnosing a condition known as atypia. This is a condition where abnormal cells are found in the ducts of the breast and is treated through the administration of prescription drugs and even surgery to lower a woman’s risk of developing cancer. In these slides, the correct diagnosis rate was less than 50 percent. The study suggests that in these types of situations, patients would be better off seeking a second opinion.