According to findings the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health published, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women, accounting for approximately 40,000 deaths each year. Methods to prevent breast cancer are still unavailable, so the best way to ensure survival is early detection. While one might think that because early detection is associated with decreased mortality, Minnesota oncologists might focus on minimizing delays in detection and diagnosis. Yet, system delay continues to be a major contributing factor to late diagnosis.

System delay refers to delays within the health care system and over which patients have no control. Delays may happen at any point of a patient’s interaction with the system, such as during scheduling, diagnostic testing, diagnosing and therapy.

According to CRICO, Harvard’s medical professional liability insurer for over 40 years, when delayed diagnosis does occur, it is often because health care professionals miss several steps. Those steps include documentation of family history, communication, clinical test ordering and examining abnormal findings.

At the time of an initial complaint, a health care provider should solicit and update a patient’s family medical history regarding cancer. Doing so could prompt providers to be more vigilant about complaints coming from those with known risk factors.

If a health care professional orders a mammogram because he or she either hopes to diagnose or rule out breast cancer, the notes on the test should say so. Otherwise, the patient risks undergoing a screening test instead of a diagnostic one. Radiologists treat diagnostic tests much more urgently than screening tests and therefore, are much more vigilant about what they look for.

Additionally, if a patient who is over the age of 30 complains of a breast lump, his or her provider should order an ultrasound. If the radiologist discovers abnormal but inconclusive findings, the provider should order an additional ultrasound to further examine the strange findings.