Cases of lung cancer can be easily misdiagnosed as COVID-19, according to a study by IASLC Lung Cancer News. Both COVID-19 and lung cancer are diseases of the lungs, and they damage or abnormalities they cause can look similar on CT (computerized tomography) scans. A misdiagnosis of cancer can waste precious time for the patient, leading to preventable damage or even death, and it can open medical professionals in Maryland to medical malpractice lawsuits on behalf of the victims.
Because both COVID-19 and lung cancer are diseases of the lungs, the patient’s symptoms can be very similar. What makes it more dangerous is that the two diseases can show the same dark blobs on CT scans (called bilateral ground-glass opacities).
Delay of Diagnosis Can be Deadly
A delay in a lung cancer diagnosis can have a deadly impact. Any preventable death can be an argument for medical malpractice for misdiagnosis if the proper medical practices are not followed. In this case, “Physicians should cautiously treat patients with lung cancer and ground-glass opacities on chest CT images, while assessing the probability of COVID-19 pneumonia and applying reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction testing to confirm or refute COVID-19 infection,” according to Soon Ho Yoon, MD, PhD and Jin Mo Goo, MD, PhD, in their paper in IASLC Lung Cancer News.
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It’s important for doctors and radiologists to do further testing to ensure whether COVID-19 viral infection is present. If COVID-19 can be ruled out, the treatment team of radiologists and doctors can investigate other causes, such as cancer. Otherwise, the patient can lose precious time and treatment for the true cause of the disease.
Early diagnosis is critical. According to Cancer Research UK, 88% of patients who are diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer survive a year or more. That is compared with only 19% of those who are diagnosed with latest stage disease survive at least a year.
Pandemic Fear Causes Patients to Wait Too Long
There is another scary connection between COVID-19 and lung cancer. The medical community has noticed a steep decline in early-stage cancers and an increase in late-stage cancers in a trend that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The prevailing theory is that people with unknown lung cancer symptoms (e.g., coughing) avoided hospitals and medical care during the pandemic. Many of them, one can assume, thought they had the COVID-19 virus, which would eventually go away on its own. Some may have had mild early-stage cancer symptoms without knowing it, and they didn’t want to risk getting COVID-19 by going to see a doctor. As a result, many people waited until their cancers were more advanced before seeking medical treatment.
Dr. David Gilligan, consultant clinical oncologist at Addenbrooke’s and Papworth hospitals in Cambridge (U.K.), and a trustee of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, told The Guardian, “Because Covid has now been around for about nine months, we are seeing the consequences of that – of people who are being diagnosed with lung cancer who originally thought that they either might have Covid, or were trying to seek medical attention during the initial lockdown period and it was difficult for them to access normal medical services,” he said, adding that during lockdown people may have been frightened to visit healthcare settings.