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Certain cancers are hard to diagnose: Here's why

As a patient who now knows that they have a form of cancer, you may be frustrated at how long it took to receive your diagnosis. Perhaps you waited several months or even years to find out exactly what was wrong, only to learn that cancer was the cause of your concerns.

In some cases, it's oversights and problems with tests or the quality of care you are receiving that can lead to a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. Other times, it's just the reality that some cancers are notoriously difficult to detect. Here are some cancers that are hard to diagnose and why they are so easy to miss.

1. Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is very easy to misdiagnose. It's rare, for one thing, making up only 2% of cancer cases in the U.S. It is, sadly, the third most common killer (in terms of cancer) in the United States, though, due to the difficulty of diagnosing it.

Why is it so hard to detect? It's usually painless at first and is internal. On top of that, it's not in an area that would usually lead to symptoms. In some cases, when this cancer occurs near the bile duct, it can lead to jaundice and a quicker diagnosis.

2. Non-small cell lung cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer is hard to diagnose as well. Why? It usually doesn't cause symptoms until the cancer grows to a larger size capable of causing trouble breathing or pneumonia. At that point, it may have already spread to the blood and lymph system. It is also not able to be recognized on an X-ray, so a positron emission tomography (PET) or CT scan might be required.

3. Liver cancer

A third cancer that is hard to diagnose is liver cancer. Liver cancer is difficult to diagnose because it's not easy to recognize small tumors through physical exams. The liver is mostly covered by the right side of the rib cage, making access to it more complicated. When the liver does become enlarged, it may be too late to save the organ. Earlier diagnoses can help patients save a portion of the liver, removing only the cancerous portion.

Each of these cancers are hard to detect, but it's not impossible. Ordering the right tests can help, as can second opinions and regular visits with a medical provider. If your provider misread a test result or didn't check for cancer despite your symptoms, then you may have a malpractice case.

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