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Hospital may have overlooked cancerous PAP screen results

Oregon readers may be familiar with the book, “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.” The book’s premise is that certain aspects of human behavior — whether attributable to nature or nurture — divide along gender lines.

The same may also be true of certain health care needs. Men and women sometimes have different medical concerns, especially concerning reproductive health issues. For example, many doctors recommend that their female patients regularly see a gynecologist to ensure optimum health. Such a visit often includes a PAP smear to screen for cervical cancer. Unfortunately, today’s story illustrates that preventative medical screenings, like a PAP smear, cannot prevail when medical error — or hospital negligence — is involved.

A woman who was recently diagnosed with cervical cancer has filed a medical malpractice suit against her hospital, eight doctors who treated her over the past five years, the pathologist who reviewed the slides of her PAP tests, and the pathology lab that ran the tests. The woman claims that medical negligence resulted in a failure to timely diagnose her cervical cancer, despite undergoing PAP smear screenings during the previous five years.

Following her diagnosis, the hospital reviewed the slides from the woman’s past five years’ of screenings. As it turns out, the hospital’s review indicates there was evidence of abnormal cells. Other pathology experts have also reviewed the slides and have also found a clear progression from normal cells to those that indicate invasive carcinoma.

The discovery has led to an internal review of at least 500 other Pap smear slides analyzed by its laboratory. Hopefully, the internal review will result in proper screening. If any other tests were misread, the hospital will contact those women and given them additional testing or treatment, as needed.

A delayed diagnosis of cancer is perhaps among the most heartbreaking types of medical error. Hopefully, it will not be too late for the women affected by the apparent negligence in this story.

Source:, “Washington Hospital reviewing hundreds of Pap tests after lawsuit,” Sean D. Hamill, Nov. 16, 2012