How Often Is Lung Cancer Misdiagnosed?

doctor on laptop giving a lung cancer second opinion

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the country, with the CDC reporting more than 221,000 new cases in 2019 alone. It’s also the most deadly form of cancer—139,601 individuals died of lung cancer in 2019. For these reasons, it’s critical that lung cancer is caught early and accurately diagnosed.

Unfortunately, lung cancer is often misdiagnosed. Lung cancer is missed in primary care settings 6.8% of the time, which means that thousands of people are living with undiagnosed lung cancer. Even when lung cancer is diagnosed, it’s often at a later stage when treatment is more difficult.

Getting a second opinion on a lung cancer diagnosis, or a diagnosis that rules out lung cancer when similar symptoms are presented, can be beneficial. A second opinion can ensure that the diagnosis is accurate and that you’re getting the best possible treatment.

Types of Lung Cancer

There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell and small cell. Non-small cell is the most common. Small cell lung cancer is more aggressive and grows and spreads more quickly.

There are three main types of non-small cell lung cancer:

  • Adenocarcinoma: This type of lung cancer starts in the cells that line the alveoli (air sacs). It’s the most common type of non-small cell lung cancer, accounting for 40% of all cases.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: This type of lung cancer starts in the squamous cells, which line the larger airways. It accounts for about 25 to 30% of all non-small cell lung cancer cases.
  • Large cell carcinoma: This type of lung cancer can start in any type of cell in the lung. It accounts for 10 to 15% of all non-small cell lung cancer cases.

Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer symptoms can be different for everyone. They may also depend on the type of lung cancer you have. The most common symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Cough that doesn’t go away or gets worse
  • Chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor right away.

Why Lung Cancer Is Misdiagnosed

Lung cancer is often misdiagnosed because its symptoms are similar to those of other conditions, like a cold or bronchitis. This can lead primary care physicians to overlook lung cancer or to misdiagnose it as another condition.

Lung cancer is also often misdiagnosed because it’s hard to detect in its early stages. A chest X-ray or CT scan can help diagnose lung cancer, but these tests aren’t always accurate. For example, a chest X-ray may show a mass or tumor, but it can’t tell if the mass is cancerous. This means that a biopsy, in which tissue is removed from the lungs and examined under a microscope, is often needed to confirm a diagnosis of lung cancer.

How a Second Opinion Can Help

If you’re diagnosed with lung cancer, or if you’re considering surgery for another condition and you have risk factors for lung cancer, it’s important to get a second opinion. A second opinion can ensure that the diagnosis is accurate and that your treatment plan will be as effective as possible.

A second opinion can also offer peace of mind. Knowing that your diagnosis is accurate and that you’re getting the best possible treatment can help you feel more confident and in control.

Virtual Second Opinions on Lung Cancer from The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic

For a fast pathway to peace of mind for your diagnosis and treatment plan, get a virtual second opinion from The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic. This unique service offers you direct access to some of the world’s leading lung cancer experts—without having to spend time gathering together your records or traveling to a specialist.

Peace of mind is within reach. Register online today