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“Inattentional blindness” may lead to a missed cancer diagnosis

On Behalf of | Mar 15, 2022 | Medical Malpractice

When it comes to cancer, early detection is often crucial for a patient’s recovery. Unfortunately, too often doctor negligence leads to a missed cancer diagnosis or even misdiagnosis of a patient’s symptoms. For many, that could mean the difference between life and death.

Alarmingly, practitioners may overlook signs of cancer even when the evidence should be clear. A recent psychological study found that even experienced radiologists may miss cancerous growths in patients’ CT scans due to a phenomenon called “inattentional blindness.”

What is inattentional blindness?

Researchers have found that the human brain often filters out seemingly irrelevant or unexpected visual information before the viewer is conscious of it. For instance, a driver may miss a pedestrian in a crosswalk because he or she is looking out for other cars, not people on foot. This phenomenon is known as “inattentional blindness.”

In one recent study, a group of radiologists with varying levels of experience and training examined the same chest CT scan. Researchers asked participants to search for potential signs of lung cancer. Because the radiologists were specifically looking for lung cancer, however, an alarming number of them missed other potential signs of disease. Roughly one-third of participants failed to notice an abnormal lymph node, and two-thirds overlooked a significant abnormality in the breast tissue, a potential sign of cancerous growth.

How might a missed diagnosis impact health outcomes?

With early intervention, many types of cancer may respond well to relatively non-invasive treatments. Left undiagnosed, however, cancer can spread rapidly, requiring costly, invasive treatment or even becoming terminal. Individuals and their families should know that they may be able to receive needed compensation for medical expenses, lost income and needles suffering if a doctor or other care provider failed to make an accurate and timely diagnosis.