Overdiagnosing cancer may lead to unnecessary, dangerous procedures

When you go to the doctor, the last thing you want to hear is that your physician has found a lump. The threat of cancer is unnerving and generally leaves the patient hoping to eradicate the problem as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, a new study has revealed that aggressive treatment may not always be the optimal solution for those diagnosed with cancer.

According to a recent study - published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery - thyroid cancer may be one type of cancer that is frequently overdiagnosed.

The researchers involved in the study analyzed statistics from 1975 to 2009 dealing with thyroid cancer diagnoses in the United States. They found that the number of such diagnoses practically tripled during that time period. Nevertheless, the number of people who succumbed to the disease did not decrease despite the increase in diagnoses.

The problem of thyroid cancer overdiagnoses

Generally, when patients see their physicians for a routine physical, the doctor will check their throat for lumps. If a lump is found, the doctor may confirm its existence by scheduling an ultrasound. If the ultrasound also reveals a lump on the thyroid gland, a biopsy is often used to determine whether the lump is cancerous.

Once a cancer diagnosis is made, serious action is typically taken, including surgical removal of the thyroid gland. The operation itself includes the risk of surgical errors, including damaging the patient's parathyroid gland, which affects calcium absorption in the body, or the patient's voice box, which affects the patient's ability to speak. In addition, once the thyroid gland is removed, the patient is required to take medication for the remainder of his or her lifetime to mimic the work previously done by the thyroid gland.

According to the recent study, 85 percent of patients who receive a thyroid cancer diagnosis ultimately have surgery to remove their thyroid gland. In many cases, however, surgery may be unnecessary. Some thyroid cancers grow at such a slow pace that they will never affect a person's health during his or her lifetime.

While most people worry about a doctor's failure to diagnose a disease, in this case, the overdiagnosis of thyroid cancer can also present serious and unnecessary risks to the patient.

Protect yourself from unnecessary procedures

While many doctors may automatically suggest thyroid removal upon a cancer diagnosis, patients would be wise to consider seeking a second opinion before moving forward with the potentially life-altering surgery.

Those patients who have undergone thyroid removal surgery and have suffered negative consequences as a result may be entitled to compensation to cover the harm caused by the physician. In such cases, patients may consult with a skilled personal injury attorney to ensure their rights are protected.