June 5 was National Cancer Survivor's Day. Around the country, the news media carried the story of how early detection and more effective treatment has resulted in millions of people surviving cancer. In fact, today there are more than 12 million cancer survivors living in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
But early detection is only possible when doctors listen to patient complaints and take them seriously, when testing is ordered, and when results are accurately read and communicated to clients. A number of public figures have spoken publicly about their own stories of cancer misdiagnosis.
- Teddy Fortsmann, CEO of the sports-marketing firm IMG, reportedly suffered poor health and a variety of incorrect diagnoses for a year before finally being correctly diagnosed with brain cancer at the Mayo Clinic. FOX business news reported that he is recovering from surgery after removal of a malignant tumor, the same kind that led to the death of Senator Ted Kennedy.
- Laura Ziskin, producer of the Spider Man franchise and co-founder of Stand Up to Cancer, wrote about her breast cancer misdiagnosis on the Huffington Post. For three years she had repeated tests for cancer and was told each time that she was fine ... until she received a voicemail telling her she had lobular breast cancer that had spread to 30 lymph nodes.
- Kylie Minogue, an Australian singer, talked to Ellen DeGeneres about being given a green light on her mammogram but finding another lump and seeking a second opinion. The second doctor told her she did indeed have breast cancer, for which she was then treated.
Early detection is key to successful treatment of most cancers, but especially fast-growing cancers. The tragedy of a cancer misdiagnosis is that it delays necessary treatment so that patients must undergo far more invasive treatment. For some, the delay means effective treatment is no longer an option.
In the case of Laura Ziskin, an already difficult-to-treat form of breast cancer had spread widely, resulting in years of medical treatment. In the case of Teddy Fortsmann, additional tumors were found and he is now undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. His prognosis is unclear.
Source: FOX Business News, "IMG's Fortsmann's Cancer Misdiagnosed for a Year," by Charlie Gasparino, May 31, 2011, and Huffington Post, "Standing Up to Cancer: Celeb Survivors Speak Out," by Laura Ziskin, June 5, 2011.