June 13, 2017

A Member’s Story: Ashifa’s Cancer Misdiagnosis

By Best Doctors

Getting a cancer diagnosis can be one the scariest moments in your life—whether it’s you, a family member or a friend who hears those words. Intense cancer treatments can have detrimental side effects, such as hair loss, infections, nausea and vomiting, kidney problems, fertility issues and so much more, but they’re worth it to beat cancer.

But what happens when that cancer is misdiagnosed?

“Often it takes a fair amount of experience, as well as technology, to make the precise diagnosis,” said Dr. Leonard Zwelling of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in an interview. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that up to 1 in 5 cancer cases are misdiagnosed or misclassified, which is why getting a second opinion on the original pathology by an expert is crucial with every cancer diagnosis.

Ashifa, a Best Doctors member, was diagnosed with metastatic squamous head and neck cancer, a very aggressive type of cancer, after her doctors found and removed a small lump on her neck. Ashifa’s oncology team at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary provided her with an aggressive treatment plan that called for 30 rounds of chemotherapy and concurrent radiation.

She was left reeling, struggling to reconcile her cancer diagnosis with an absence of any symptoms or even a definitive origin of the cancer, even after undergoing the surgery, a tonsillectomy and 16 biopsies.

One of the most important parts in Best Doctors’ reviews of cancer cases is the retesting of the original pathology. “We recognize that is it absolutely critical always to go the primary source, always to use the primary data, because misdiagnosis can happen anywhere,” said Dr. David Harrison, the U.S. medical director at Best Doctors.

Just before Ashifa was scheduled to started treatment, she got the “magic call” from Best Doctors. After a review by both an expert oncologist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and by the Best Doctors’ medical director, they found no evidence of cancer.

“Best Doctors was incredible—they were very supportive, responsive and timely. Best Doctors saved my life, Ashifa said.