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Hospital Cancer Error

A suburban Boston hospital admits to misdiagnosing 19 men with cancer. The patients all had prostate biopsies between 1995 and 1997 at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attelboro, Mass.

All were told they didn't have cancer, even though they did. Two of the patients died of what the hospital calls "unrelated causes."

Because of the errors, the cancer was left undiagnosed and untreated in the men for some time, perhaps lowering their chances of survival.

CBS News Correspondent Cathy Moss reports that the two pathologists who read the errors are no longer with the hospital. The hospital has since checked all of the tests done in that time period and found that only 20 biopsies on 19 patients had been misread.

"I don't want people to think, 'Oh, wow, I had a biopsy done at the hospital during this period of time. I wonder if that one was accurate?' We have no reason to believe that any of the others are inaccurate," said Sturdy President Linda Shyavitz.

To further assure patients, hospital officials are sending 15,000 other cancer biopsies done during that time to an independent reviewer for another look.

The hospital is now requiring every biopsy to be reviewed by two pathologists.

The erroneous results were on 20 biopsies done over a nearly three-year period. (One of the 19 patients had two biopsies during that time.) Two of the patients later died of causes said to be unrelated to their prostate cancer. Officials won't discuss the status of the others, citing patient confidentiality.

About 15,000 other biopsies done over the period will be reviewed by the hospital, about 6,000 of which involve possible cancers.

Shyavitz says she wants all patients to know that the hospital is not trying to hide its errors.

"We feel shock, anger, disbelief there's nothing we can do," said the wife of one misdiagnosed patient, requesting that the family's identity and hometown be kept anonymous. "We don't know what's going to happen."

She said her 62-year-old husband was told two weeks ago by Sturdy Memorial Hospital that his test had been inaccurately reported by a former pathologist. Since then, her husband has been told to seek aggressive radiation therapy.

The flawed exams were performed between January 1995 and December 1997, The Sun Chronicle of Attleboro reported this week. Sturdy Memorial has said it reviewed 279 tests and discovered that 20 biopsies on 19 patients were botched.

Officials at Sturdy Memorial would not release the conditions of the other misdiagnosed men, nor elaborate on what triggered the review of the tests.

The mistakes are under investigation by the state's Department of Public Health and Board of Registration in Medicine. Both groups refused comment Wednesday.

The tests were supposed to detect malignant cells in the prostate, a walnut-sized organ in men located just below the bladder.

About 179,000 men are diagnosed with prostae cancer nationwide every year. About 37,000 men die of the disease each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

The five-year survival rate in men whose cancer is detected early and has not spread is nearly 99 percent, said Kara Smigel, a spokeswoman for the National Cancer Institute. If the cancer has spread to bones or organs, that figure drops to 32 percent, she said.

At least one recent cancer misdiagnosis case resulted in criminal action.

In 1995, a Wisconsin laboratory pleaded no contest to reckless homicide after failing to find obvious signs of cancer in Pap smears of two women who later died. Lawsuits against the lab, health maintenance organization and individuals were settled for $9.8 million.

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