A misdiagnosis of cervical cancer is a serious mistake, one that may result in untimely death or, at the least, significant suffering and staggering medical expenses. Cervical cancer misdiagnosis may not be the fault of an individual practitioner, but rather a systemic problem with pap smear test analysis. This page provides comprehensive information on how pap smear testing works and why current practices may be resulting in an increase in delayed diagnosis of cervical cancer.
It is recommended that women have pap smears every couple of years to detect possible abnormal cervical cells that may be indicative of cervical cancer. By swabbing the cervix, physicians obtain a sampling of the cells, which are then examined under magnification. If cells in the sample are identified to be abnormal (a condition referred to as dysplasia), the patient may undergo further testing, may be scheduled sooner for another pap smear, or may be required to undergo a surgical procedure to remove the threat.
The type of irregular cells that are found in a pap smear may vary, and different types indicate different treatments. Some are indicative that cancer is already present, while others are a sign of precancerous development. Still other cervical cell types are irregular but their significance is unknown. By detecting any abnormal cellular growth at an early stage, medical practitioners are able to eradicate the danger or monitor change in order to prevent the development of cervical cancer. Routine pap smear testing and careful analysis of the results has kept millions of women safe from cervical cancer since pap smear testing was widely adopted. The test was developed by a physician in 1928 after observing cervical cancer cells throughout his wife’s disease.
When the pap smear was developed, physicians undertook to thoroughly review each slide for signs of abnormal cellular growth. Over the decades, as pap smear testing has become a routine part of preventative care for adult women, streamlining procedures have been adopted. In recent decades, new technology has been developed to further maximize the efficiency of pap smear analysis: In many cases, cytotechnicians review the slides instead of physicians, and the process now relies on digital technology to preselect portions of the slide for viewing. In other words, technicians do not review the entire sample.
Critics such as the U.S. Preventative Task Force say these efforts to increase efficiency have resulting in inaccurate results that have led to a purported uptick in cervical cancer misdiagnosis. The computer program may miss the most important part of the slide, preventing technicians from viewing abnormal cells. Additionally, technicians are expected to process the slides much more quickly than before, and do not have time to be thorough in their analysis of pap smear results.
When pap smear results are misread or misinterpreted, women suffer. A misread pap smear essentially means a delayed diagnosis of cervical cancer. When caught early, particularly in precancerous stages, threatening cells can be removed through less invasive procedures such as cone biopsy.
When precancerous cells are not detected, the cervical cancer diagnosis is delayed, giving the disease extra years to develop and spread. This results in women having to undergo aggressive and invasive treatments that otherwise may have been avoided. Cervical cancer develops over the course of years and can eventually spread to the ovaries and uterus. Late stages of cervical cancer require full hysterectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation. Delayed cervical cancer diagnosis or misread pap smears result in severe side effects for women, including:
Experts say that women who have had routine pap smears as recommended, have never have an abnormal result, and then are diagnosed with full-fledged cervical cancer likely have a misread pap smear in their medical history. If you or a loved one has suffered from cervical cancer, you may be eligible for compensation for the medical expenses, pain, suffering, and loss associated with a misdiagnosis of cervical cancer.
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