Women throughout the country are urged by their health care providers to get annual screenings in order to detect possibly deadly diseases and illnesses, such as cancer, before they reach their advanced stages. In addition, women are also encouraged to talk to their doctor about any symptoms they are experiencing that could indicate a serious health problem.

Even though these two very important pieces of health care can lead to the proper diagnosis of many conditions, the same is not true for women suffering from ovarian cancer. For many women, an ovarian cancer diagnosis is a death sentence; but not knowing you have the disease or that it could have been properly treated, is just as worse.

Why is ovarian cancer often missed by doctors?

One of the reasons ovarian cancer is often missed or diagnosed too late is because there are no screening tests such as is the case for colorectal cancer and cervical cancer. On top of that, symptoms oftentimes don't appear until a patient is in advanced stages of the disease. When symptoms do present, they can be confused with other less serious conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, which was the main focus of a 2010 Everyday Health article.

What happens when ovarian cancer is missed or misdiagnosed?

If a doctor misses any of the few obvious warning signs we know about, as can be seen in this NPR news story, then the patient could die from the disease without ever knowing what caused her death. It would only be after an autopsy that a patient's family would learn the truth, leaving them wondering if the failure to diagnose their loved one's condition is worth speaking to a lawyer about.

But a missed diagnosis is not the only problem women with ovarian cancer face. Because the disease can be confused with other conditions, a doctor may prescribe treatments that do nothing to fight the disease, which may shave time off of a patient's life or ruin their chances of survival altogether. In some cases, unassociated treatments may end up doing further harm to the patient, which raises questions about negligence and the possibility of a medical malpractice lawsuit.

With an estimated 23,000 cases of ovarian cancer being diagnosed every year in the United States, one has to wonder: how many of those diagnoses came too late, and how many were a misdiagnosis all along? It's unfortunate that the statistics aren't available to answer this question for you. 

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