A doctor’s failure to discover cancer is often the basis of a medical malpractice lawsuit, where healthcare professionals overlook or ignore the signs and rob patients of valuable time to treat their diseases. But when pathologists make false-positive diagnoses – “finding” cancer when no cancer exists – the consequences can be just as devastating.

That’s the basis for a lawsuit that Sommers Schwartz attorney Richard Groffsky filed on behalf of a client wrongly diagnosed and aggressively treated for ovarian cancer. The case offers a warning that patients must obtain second opinions on biopsies and lab results before enduring grueling chemotherapy, radiation, and surgical treatments that may not be medically necessary.

The Facts

Due to infertility issues, the plaintiff visited the hospital in March 2017, where the surgeon performed multiple biopsies of her right ovary to determine a diagnosis and course of treatment. The tissue samples were sent to pathology for interpretation. Rochester, Michigan pathologists at an Oakland County hospital reported a positive finding of serous carcinoma – ovarian cancer.  A short search on the internet reveals just how deadly this diagnosis can be, leaving no doubt as to the huge emotional toll it can have on the patient and her family.

Based on that diagnosis, the plaintiff was referred to a gynecological oncologist. Less than a month after the biopsies, the patient underwent extensive surgery, including removal of her right ovary, the cancerous tumors, and isolated abdominal tissue. In June 2017, the plaintiff started six cycles of chemotherapy lasting almost five months.

In March 2020, the plaintiff began experiencing recurring abdominal pain. Following a CT scan, her uterus and left ovary were removed. Interpreting tissue samples taken during the procedure, pathologists diagnosed that the patient’s original ovarian cancer had returned and spread. In May 2020, the plaintiff underwent another round of chemotherapy that ended the following August.

In January 2023, the plaintiff and her family moved to California, and she saw a gynecologic oncologist at Stanford University Cancer Center to manage her health. Confused by the lack of specificity in the original pathology reports, the doctor sent the patient’s tissue slides to the Stanford Anatomic Pathology Gynecological Service. After their review, he informed the patient that she never had ovarian cancer and that all the tumors were benign. 

Understanding Ovarian Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute, nearly 20,000 women will receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis this year, and 1.1% of all U.S. women during their lifetimes. Approximately 12,750 women will die from the disease. The rate of incidence is higher in older women; roughly half of all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 63 or older. 

Research published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, indicates that the rate of false-positive diagnoses (women without cancer who had a positive screening result) ranges from 9.0% to more than 44%. As many as 3% of women with false-positive findings undergo surgical investigation based on those results, and of those patients, up to 15% experience significant complications, such as infection, surgical harm, and cardiovascular or pulmonary events, in addition to some degree of psychological harm.

A Cautionary Tale

Because of the defendant pathologists’ repeated cancer misdiagnoses, the plaintiff in the recently filed lawsuit underwent two extensive chemotherapy regimens, from which she continues to experience side effects. Her body has deteriorated because of the trauma she experienced, and she suffers from anxiety, depression, memory lapses, hair loss and thinning, body inflammation, joint pain, weakened immune system, lymphatic system issues, changes in libido, insomnia, and constant thoughts of death and reduced life expectancy. Essentially, the cure has proven worse than her disease – a disease that never existed.

It cannot be emphasized enough that women who receive a positive ovarian cancer diagnosis – or anyone receiving any kind of serious cancer diagnosis – should obtain at least a second pathology opinion on their biopsy results. Sadly, we’ve represented clients in similar cases, including a woman who had an unnecessary mastectomy and chemotherapy due to a biopsy a pathologist interpreted as positive for breast cancer.

Time is always of the essence following a serious and potentially fatal diagnosis, but confirming the accuracy of the diagnosis is prudent and may avoid unnecessary, harmful treatment.

Have You Misdiagnosed or Wrongly Diagnosed With Cancer? 

If you or a loved one has been harmed due to a missed, incorrect, or delayed diagnosis, or from needless treatment, please contact Sommers Schwartz today for a free consultation. Our experienced and compassionate medical malpractice attorneys can help you recover the compensation you deserve.

Richard L. Groffsky

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Richard L. Groffsky

Richard Groffsky focuses his practice on medical malpractice and personal injury litigation, and has represented victims of devastating brain injuries and birth injuries in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, South Carolina, and Georgia in significant brain injury and birth injury cases.