Most people visit their doctor annually where routine tests are performed to rule out any chronic illnesses. In some cases, healthcare providers, due to suspicion that something is amiss, may choose to order cancer screening tests.

Simply because a healthcare provider orders a cancer screening test does not automatically mean that an individual has cancer. Instead, the intent of the screen is to detect any cancerous cells in their early stage and treat them as soon as possible. Cancer screening relies on various means to detect or identify cancer early on in a patient. These include the physical exam and patient history that most people are familiar with. Other potentially invasive procedures include laboratory tests that might focus on blood, urine or tissue samples, imagining procedures, and even genetic tests to identify cancer markers also known as gene mutations.

Though there can be compelling reasons to get a screen for cancer and to undergo some or all of the aforementioned procedures, it is essential to keep in mind that they are only tools to identify cancer and they themselves carry some risks. In fact, sometimes the cancer screen itself can cause serious injury and result in bleeding or other problems. Furthermore, a screen may result in either false-positives or false-negatives.

A false-positive is when there are abnormalities detected in cells. However, the abnormalities may or may not be due to cancer. Further testing may be necessary to rule out or confirm cancer in a patient. On the other hand, a false-negative is when the results appear to be normal but cancer is present. This is a serious situation because the patient may be under the impression that they do not have cancer when they actually might have it. A false-negative could be the result of a misdiagnosis and can result in delayed treatment and the cancer may progress. If a misdiagnosis occurs due to a medical professional’s negligence, then a victim may be entitled to compensation. By speaking with a Montana attorney, these individuals can learn how best to act on their legal rights.

Source: National Cancer Institute, “What is Cancer Screening?” accessed September 15, 2014