When a lump is not just a lump. A primer on late cancer diagnoses in Albany, New York.
Most of us at one time or another will experience something with our body that will give us pause, that will make us say, “is that normal?”
Take, for example, a lump on or around the knee. At first glance this may seem like just an annoyance. But if it persists, or changes, it may be something else entirely. This is why it is crucial that you get it checked out.
But here's the key – when you get it checked out be sure you ask the right questions. Be sure that when you see your Orthopedic surgeon you ask her to be sure it's not just a cyst.
Synovial sarcomas are a form of cancer that can grown in and around the joints. These sarcomas are often slow growing, and if they are found early they can often be treated more or less effectively. The problem, however, is that when left untreated these cancers can explode, and after reaching a certain stage can be very difficult to contain.
How does a missed diagnosis of a sarcoma occur?
Well, it generally starts at the first visit with the orthopedic surgeon. For one reason or another the surgeon often believes that the mass is nothing more than a cyst. She may palpate or feel the mass, may even take some measurements and ask some questions. In some cases, she may even order an MRI to ensure that it's nothing to be worried about.
Sarcoma's, however, are easy to mistake for soft-tissue masses on film. For this reason, it is important for the physician to consider aspirating the mass. This involves injecting a needle into the mass to determine with it is filled with fluid (meaning it is “soft”) or whether it is hard, suggesting that it is something other than a cyst.
A missed cancer diagnosis can occur in a number of situations. With a sarcoma perhaps the orthopedist made a note to have an aspiration performed but her office did not follow up with the patient. We have seen this happen.
Perhaps the aspiration was attempted, but was abandoned because the patient had difficulty tolerating the needle. This is common because sarcomas often grow within the ligaments surrounding the joints, making them difficult to access via needle. This does not relieve the surgeon from having the aspiration performed – there are other options including sedation if necessary. Unfortunately, there are situations where, following an incomplete aspiration, a surgeon simply allows the patient to leave the office. We have seen this happen as well.
If you have a mass around the joints (or anywhere, for that matter) that has changed, grown, is causing you pain, etc., it is critical that you follow up with your specialist. If they are not adequately addressing your concerns switch doctors, get a second opinion.
There is a reason that the medical community is constantly talking about early detection of cancer – it can significantly increase the chances of survival.
Often you will need to be your own advocate, and if necessary demand that an aspiration or biopsy take place. The “worst” that will happen is that you will be reassured that your mass is in fact benign.
Doctors and surgeons do not perform biopsies or aspirations lightly – as they shouldn't. There are however some occasions on which these tests are absolutely necessary to rule out cancer. In these cases, the patient may need to do whatever is necessary to ensure that she gets the right treatment.
If you have questions about a late cancer diagnosis give us a call. We are always happy to speak with you.