These 15 Cancers Are Most Commonly Misdiagnosed

You know by now that cancer is one of the top killers of both men and women in the U.S. There is good news, however: The American Cancer Society reports mortality rates are dropping for this disease. And the rate of diagnosis seems to also be dropping at a steady rate.

Even with this positive outlook, it’s important to understand the symptoms of cancer and which types may run in your family. There are plenty of cancers that are misdiagnosed more than you think. And if your doctor gives you the wrong prognosis at first, it can be deadly (especially for cancer No. 9).

1. Thyroid cancer

Human Thyroid Gland Illustration

Illustration of the thyroid gland | iStock.com/Nerthuz

Often misdiagnosed as: Lyme disease, neck cancer, Graves disease, other thyroid disorders

Your thyroid is located in the front of your neck and is responsible for sending out hormones that keep your body’s systems running smoothly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes. And cancer symptoms can include trouble breathing, swallowing, or swelling on the sides of the neck.

Unfortunately, Paul & Perkins notes there are plenty of other diseases the exhibit similar symptoms, like Lyme disease and even neck cancer. This can cause a delay in the correct diagnosis, which can lead to serious issues down the line.

Next: Your swollen lymph nodes may be easily misdiagnosed. 

2. Lymphoma

Woman with swollen lymph nodes

Woman with swollen lymph nodes | Vonschonertagen/iStock/Getty Images

Often misdiagnosed as: Non-deadly disease found in the gut

The CDC explains lymphoma refers to groups of cancers that start in the tissue and organs that produce and carry white blood cells that help fight infection. If you have consistently swollen lymph nodes, fever, night sweats, or unexplainable weight loss, these are all signs you may be dealing with this type of cancer.

Oddly enough, City of Hope notes there’s a less deadly disease that often mimics the signs of lymphoma. The disease is known as indolent T-LPD, and it causes similar symptoms of lymphomas that are found in the gut. It’s not deadly, which is a plus, but it also doesn’t respond to traditional lymphoma treatments.

Next: This extremely common cancer isn’t always diagnosed properly. 

3. Breast cancer

Breast cancer self check

Woman checking for breast cancer | iStock.com/Tharakorn

Often misdiagnosed as: Cysts, fibroids, fibrocystic breast disease, fat necrosis

You’ve certainly heard of this type of cancer, as it’s incredibly common in women (and still possible for men to develop as well). Warning signs include breast lumps, irritation of the breast skin, any changes in size or shape, or any abnormalities of the nipple region, says the CDC.

According to Boston Magazine, breast cancer is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed types. And Diagnosis Delayed reports many cases of breast cancer are first diagnoses as less serious conditions, like cysts or fibroids. If the patient actually has a form of inflammatory breast cancer, this could mean life or death.

Next: This type of skin cancer is often overlooked.

4. Melanomas

diagnosis of skin diseases

A spot on the skin under a magnifying glass | Artem Balatskyi/Getty Images

Often misdiagnosed as: Benign moles 

The Skin Cancer Foundation notes melanoma exists as the most dangerous form of skin cancer, as it occurs when damaged skin cells don’t properly repair and then rapidly grow to form tumors. If you have any moles or unusual skin growths, be sure to keep an eye on them to see if they change over time.

Dermatology News explains it’s not uncommon for melanomas to be completely misdiagnosed. In some cases, doctors have thought a benign mole tested positively for cancer. But in more serious cases, a seemingly benign skin growth was actually a deadly melanoma.

Next: Men should pay attention to this cancer. 

5. Prostate cancer

Doctor and patient

Doctor talking to her male patient | Gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images

Often misdiagnosed as: Bladder cancer

Aside from skin cancer, the CDC warns that prostate cancer is the most common type in men residing in the U.S. If you have difficulty urinating, pain or burning while urinating, or blood in the urine, then these certainly aren’t symptoms to ignore. They can all point to prostate cancer — though keep in mind that this cancer has been misdiagnosed with fair frequency in the past.

Paul & Perkins notes prostate cancer can often lead to lesions in the bladder, making many health professionals believe the patient has bladder cancer. Doctors should know this is possible, however, and then order further testing in this case.

Next: This cancer is rarer than the rest, which can lead to wrong diagnosis. 

6. Sarcoma

Man holding his knee in pain

Man holding his knee in pain | m-gucci/iStock.com//Getty Images

Often misdiagnosed as: Benign lesions

This type of cancer grows in connective tissue, WebMD notes. The tumors from sarcoma often grow in bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons, nerves, or fat. And while it may not be as common as the other cancers on the list, this can also make correct diagnosis trickier when you do have it.

If your doctor isn’t too familiar with tumors, then sarcoma lesions can be incredibly easy to overlook, The Baltimore Sun reports. For this reason, sarcomas are often missed altogether, which alter your chances of survival greatly.

Next: This is the most common cancer in the U.S. aside from skin cancer. 

7. Lung cancer

A human chest showing lung cancer

A human chest showing lung cancer | stockdevil/Getty Images

Often misdiagnosed as: Tuberculosis, bronchial pneumonia, lung abscesses

Whether you’re a smoker or not, lung cancer still stands as one of the biggest cancer threats in the U.S. And the sooner the correct prognosis can be made, the better your chances are of survival. Passen Law Group notes the most common symptoms are a persistent cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

Lung cancer isn’t as easy to diagnose as you may think, either. There are times when errors made by lab techs can alter your results. Alternatively, your symptoms may also look like a lung abscess or bronchia pneumonia, which can delay proper treatment.

Next: This cancer can look exactly like a urinary tract infection.

8. Ovarian cancer

Young cancer patient resting in bed

Young cancer patient resting in bed | Ridofranz/ iStock

Often misdiagnosed as: Irritable bowel syndrome, urinary tract infection, endometriosis

Ovarian cancer may not be as prominent as breast cancer, MSN notes, but it does typically have a much lower survival rate. When cancer originates in the ovaries, it’s not uncommon to experience vaginal bleeding, pelvic pressure, bloating, or a general pain in your bathroom habits, the CDC notes.

Unfortunately, these same symptoms can look a lot like endometriosis or a urinary tract infection. And though there’s a blood test that can easily tell you if you have the disease, many doctors don’t immediately jump to ovarian cancer as their conclusion, resulting in a misdiagnosis.

Next: This common cancer can be cured if found early — but a misdiagnosis can lead to death.  

9. Colorectal cancer

The diagnosis Colon Cancer written on a clipboard

Colon cancer diagnosis | iStock.com/Zerbor

Often misdiagnosed as: Ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis

If you’re above the age of 50 and haven’t gotten screened for colorectal cancer yet, you should do so. When detected early, this type of cancer has an incredibly high survival rate — but because many often sit on their symptoms without addressing them, it’s proven to be one of the deadliest. The CDC warns symptoms include bloody bowel movements or stomach pains.

There are plenty of other diseases, like IBD and ulcerative colitis, that also have these symptoms, Paul & Perkins notes. For that reason, colorectal cancer is often overlooked at first, especially in younger patients.

Next: Misdiagnosis here has led to many getting their kidneys unnecessarily removed. 

10. Kidney cancer

Kidney pain

Woman with kidney pain | Dirima/iStock/Getty Images

Often misdiagnosed as: Tuberous sclerosis complex, noncancerous kidney tumors, kidney infections

You may not hear about kidney cancer every day, but thousands die from it annually. The CDC notes taking certain paid meds for a long time can increase your odds of developing it, as can high blood pressure. Symptoms include lumps around the kidney area, lower back pain, or bloody urine.

Scarily enough, ScienceDaily reports many with the genetic disorder tuberous sclerosis complex have actually had their kidneys removed when doctors assumed a cancer diagnosis. And kidney infections as well as non-cancerous tumors can also look a lot like cancer.

Next: This cancer that occurs in the bone marrow can also be misdiagnosed. 

11. Leukemia

Sick man with fever coughing

Sick man coughing | iStock.com/Alen-D

Often misdiagnosed as: The flu, autoimmune disorders, fever

Leukemia occurs when cancer forms in the bone marrow, the CDC notes. And what makes it particularly deadly is that there are typically no symptoms. More often than not, leukemia is found during routine blood tests.

Even worse, there are times when leukemia has been completely misdiagnosed. In the beginning stages of the disease, it can cause flu-like symptoms that can easily lead your doctor to giving you an influenza diagnosis, Paul & Perkins notes.

Next: This cancer can mimic the symptoms of kidney stones. 

12. Bladder cancer

Lady suffering from stomach ache

Woman with severe pain | Sasha_Suzi/iStock/Getty Images

Often misdiagnosed as: Kidney stones, urinary tract infection, enlarged prostate

Bladder cancer, while not as common as other types, presents symptoms relatively early. The CDC reports if you have to urinate often or detect blood in your urine, these are both signs. The problem is that many less serious diseases also have the same signs, which can lead a doctor to an incorrect diagnosis.

Diagnosis Delayed explains bladder cancer is often first diagnosed as kidney stones or a UTI — and if the problems persist, some doctors may diagnose the patient with chronic inflammation. This, of course, does nothing to help the cancer.

Next: If swallowing is painful, it could be a sign of this cancer. 

13. Throat cancer

Woman touching her throat where her thyroid gland is

Woman touching her throat where her thyroid gland is | ChesiireCat/iStock/Getty Images

Often misdiagnosed as: Acid reflux, tonsillitis

Throat cancer can develop anywhere in your voice box, tonsils, or pharynx, the Mayo Clinic notes. And symptoms are similar to those of the cold or flu, as they include pain when swallowing, a cough, voice changes, ear pain, or throat pain. This disease can also grow rapidly if it’s missed when first evaluated, too, says Law Doctors.

Upon first inspection, throat cancer can often sound like tonsillitis or acid reflux. Express.co.uk reports that one 18-year-old woman had throat cancer, and it took several doctors before the diagnosis was suspected.

Next: This highly-preventable cancer isn’t always correctly diagnosed. 

14. Cervical cancer

Medical checkup

Woman having an appointment with her doctor | DragonImages/iStock/Getty Images

Often misdiagnosed as: No cancer present

The CDC notes cervical cancer is highly preventable thanks to routine testing, and it’s treatable when caught early. The trickiest part about this cancer, however, is that there are often no symptoms present. Abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding after sexual intercourse can occur in some cases, but not all.

Cervical cancer isn’t often confused with other diseases — but it can be overlooked. Paul & Perkins notes there’s a moderate chance of a pap smear test coming back with false-negative results.

Next: There have been multiple reports of doctors misdiagnosing this cancer.

15. Uterine/endometrial cancer

Ultrasound medical device

Ultrasound medical device for diagnostics | Zilli/iStock/Getty Images

Often misdiagnosed as: Non-cancerous polyps, fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease, STDs

Uterine or endometrial cancer can be easily overlooked, as Paul & Perkins notes pelvic exams may not detect the cancer until it’s progressed. With that said, a common early symptom is vaginal bleeding between menstrual cycles or after menopause. If this occurs, bring it up with your doctor.

An ultrasound should be able to rule out other possible conditions with similar symptoms, like polyps, fibroids, STDs, or pelvic inflammatory disease. If this cancer isn’t caught early, it may unknowingly progress and spread.

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