The timely diagnosis of breast cancer. Principles of risk management for primary care providers and surgeons

Cancer. 1994 Jul 1;74(1 Suppl):271-8. doi: 10.1002/cncr.2820741311.


Alleged delay in the diagnosis of breast cancer is one of the most common reasons for medical malpractice claims in the United States, accounting for the largest indemnity payments of any single medical condition. Although the diagnosis of breast cancer can be challenging and sometimes difficult, principles of management exist to assist health providers in pursuing a resolution of any breast complaint. Studies have shown that when litigation is pursued for alleged failure to diagnose breast cancer, multiple specialists are named in the suit. In most cases, patients filing claims of alleged failure to diagnose breast cancer are premenopausal, while the majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer are postmenopausal. This reflects, in part, the challenge of diagnosing the disease in women who have difficult clinical exams to interpret, as well as dense parenchyma on mammograms, which decreases the sensitivity of the radiograph interpretation. Principles of risk management to avoid a delay in diagnosis include (1) pursuing every breast complaint to resolution, (2) following breast cancer screening guidelines, (3) establishing an office tracking system for breast cancer screening reminders, (4) tracking results of all mammograms and follow-up studies ordered, (5) referring premenopausal women for the evaluation of any breast mass that persists through a menstrual cycle, (6) considering any asymmetrical breast finding as a cause for concern, (7) referring every woman with a breast finding on physical examination for consultation, regardless of the mammogram report, and (8) carefully documenting patient history, physical exam findings, clinical impression, and follow-up plans.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Family Practice*
  • Female
  • General Surgery*
  • Humans
  • Malpractice
  • Risk Management*
  • United States