Lab Mistakes

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

JULY 17, 2017

I have thought about including this article for several days, as it is both distressing and hopeful. The hopeful part is that there may be a solution, but the distressing part is that it confirms our dark suspicions that labs do make mistakes. Of course they do; they are staffed by humans. Generally all specimens and reports and double-read to reduce the risks, but it is plenty scary to contemplate.

Years and years ago, I was asked to see a young woman who had just had a mastectomy. After the surgery was done, it was discovered that the initial pathology had been misread, and she did not have breast cancer after all. Pretty hard to make up for that error!

From The New York Times:

The Lab Says Its Cancer, but Sometimes the Lab is Wrong

Gina Kolata

It was the sort of bad news every patient fears. Merlin Erickson, a 69-year-old retired engineer in Abingdon, Md., was told last year that a biopsy of his prostate was positive for cancer.

Mr. Erickson, worried, began investigating the options: whether to have his prostate removed, or perhaps to have radiation treatment. But a few days later, the doctor called again.

As it turned out, Mr. Erickson did not have cancer. The lab had mixed up his biopsy with someone else’s.

“Obviously, I felt great for me but sad for that other gentleman,” Mr. Erickson said.

The other gentleman was Timothy Karman, 65, a retired teacher in Grandy, N.C. At first, of course, he had been told he was cancer-free. The phone rang again a few days later with news of the mix-up and a diagnosis of cancer.

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Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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