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Tuesday, 20 October, 1998, 20:03 GMT 21:03 UK
Many cancer cases 'may be being missed'
Radiotherapy
Many cancer cases may be being missed
Doctors may be missing or misdiagnosing a large number of cancers, according to American research.

A study of post-mortems found a 44% difference between diagnosed cancers and those found by the researchers.

Scientists at the Louisiana State University Medical Centre in New Orleans said 57 of the 1,105 patients they studied had died of cancer which had not been diagnosed.

They found 433 tumours in the patients, of which 250 were malignant. Some 111 tumours in 100 patients had been misdiagnosed or missed.

The study suggests that official cancer figures may underestimate the impact of cancer.

Around 150,000 people a year officially die from cancer.

Men are more likely to die from lung cancer, while breast cancer is the most common killer for women cancer sufferers.

Younger

Dr Elizabeth Burton and her colleagues in Louisiana said patients whose cancers were missed tended to be younger than those who were diagnosed.

The average age for cancer diagnosis was around 54 years old.

The most common cancers which were missed were those of the respiratory tract, the stomach and intestines and the reproductive and excretory organs.

The research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Cancer cell
Breast and lung cancer are the biggest cancer killers in the UK
The researchers said the study underlined the importance of post-mortems.

"Instead of discarding the autopsy, we should recognise its importance in our understanding of disease," they stated.

The JAMA's editor, Dr George Lundberg, who is a pathologist, also backed post-mortems and said they would not be replaced by new technological advances.

"Low-tech autopsy trumps high-tech medicine in getting the right answer again and again, even during the 1990s and even at academic medical centres," he said.

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See also:

01 Oct 98 | Health
Breast cancer vaccine on trial
23 Sep 98 | Medical notes
Breast cancer factfile
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