Two women have cancer misdiagnosed at St James' Hospital

St James' Hospital in Dublin Newsdesk

A woman who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 was one of two patients misdiagnosed with breast cancer at St James' Hospital, RTE Investigates reports.

Alison McCormack was 35 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. Following a referral to the breast clinic in St James' she was diagnosed with DCIS, Ductal carcinoma in situ, a type of cancer that is curable with surgery.

The young woman went to have a mastectomy but was not prescribed chemotherapy or other treatment as DCIS is a non-invasive cancer.

However, in October 2012 Alison was diagnosed with DCIS a second time - this time in her lymph nodes and neck.

Alison McCormack (Photo courtesy of Irish Examiner)

At the time she was told her that her cancer had returned.

In an RTE Investigates report due to be aired on RTE One on Tuesday night Alison reveals both she and her consultant were shocked by the apparent return of the cancer.

"We were shocked and we couldn't, we couldn't understand it and actually she couldn't understand it either. She basically said it's very rare for DCIS to come back," she said.

Her treatment included chemotherapy and she has been left with reduced use of her right arm.

In 2013 following repeated requests Alison secured a meeting at St James's Hospital to discuss questions she had over her case.

She was informed she was misdiagnosed and was given a written report into the missed diagnosis - which had been completed months before.

Her original 2010 biopsy had shown invasive cancer but this had been missed.

The hospital said this was a mistake that any pathologist could have made and a review of 39 of the specialist's cases from 2010 was conducted.

The review found that of nine DCIS cases Alison and another woman were misdiagnosed.

In a statement to RTE Investigates the hospital said that it fully accepts and apologises for the mistake.

"The review highlighted that identification of subtle foci of invasive carcinoma within in situ carcinoma is a difficult diagnostic area that challenged both the individual pathologist and the wider pathologist group. The pathology conclusion is that this error could equally have been made by any other competent pathologist and does not represent incompetency on the part of the individual pathologist or a departmental systems failure," the hospital said.

"On the basis of the contents of the report it is the view of St. James’s Hospital that any further review of the remainder of the pathologist’s work is not warranted. No evidence of further missed diagnoses has arisen in the nearly eight years since the error occurred.

"St  James’s Hospital is committed to providing safe and effective care and treatment to all our patients. As a designated Cancer Centre the hospital works closely with the National Cancer Control Programme and the Health Service Executive to ensure quality assurance and patient safety."

In relation to the second woman whose diagnosis was missed St James' Hospital confirmed that "all relevant elements of the patients care were discussed with her at the time of diagnosis and eight years later the patient remains in normal active clinical review".

  • A full RTE Investigates report 'Under the Microscope', will air tonight on Prime Time on RTE One at 9.35pm