Posted on Sep 27, 2006
Lab mixup misdiagnoses woman with cancer
BY REID J. EPSTEIN
Newsday Staff Writer
September 26, 2006
After undergoing a lumpectomy and 25 painful radiation treatments, Lynne Yurosko got surprising news: She never actually had breast cancer.
Now, a year and a half after her tissue sample was mixed up with another woman's, the Garden City retail consultant said she has lost her trust in the medical system and is concerned the radiation she received could itself cause cancer. She is also worried that the woman with whom her biopsy samples were switched may never have found out her true diagnosis, despite the laboratory's assurances to the contrary.
"You trust them to give you accurate information" she said. "You have this fear that it wasn't just me. It can be other women."
Yurosko, 56, is suing Quest Diagnostics; the Nassau Radiologic Group, a medical and testing center with several locations in Nassau; and four doctors.
According to documents filed at State Supreme Court in Garden City, the mix-up resulted when Yurosko's November 2004 biopsy sample was switched with another woman's. The suit asks that a jury determine damages. Yurosko's attorney, Bob Sullivan, said he expects to go to trial in 2007.
In an affidavit filed July 19, Era Khurana, the medical director of Quest's Syosset lab, said she first learned of Yurosko's "labeling issue" in March 2005. Yurosko's doctor had raised concerns that breast tissue samples taken during her radiation treatments didn't match the sample that showed the cancer.
In a March 2005 letter to Yurosko's doctor, Bette Nyhlen, Khurana asked Nyhlen to "please disregard" the diagnosis that concluded Yurosko had cancer in her left breast and triggered her treatment.
Since then, Yurosko said, she has worried about the other woman -- who would have received a healthy test result that should have been hers.
"The woman whose slide was switched had a good holiday [Thanksgiving]," she said. "I had cancer treatment."
Khurana said in the affidavit that the other woman's doctor told her that long before Quest alerted the doctor of the mistake, that doctor had already ordered a second test. That test correctly diagnosed the other woman's breast cancer.
Yurosko's attorney, Bob Sullivan, said Quest should identify the other woman or allow a judge to independently confirm the woman was treated properly. State Supreme Court Judge Roy Mahon rejected that argument in July, a judgment that did not placate Sullivan.
Naming the other woman or her doctor, Khurana said, would violate federal medical privacy laws and compromise doctor-patient confidentiality.
Sullivan said Quest has other motives. "Obviously Quest doesn't want to get sued again," he said. "They say they've spoken to her doctor, but it's possible her doctor isn't telling it like it is either."
Quest spokesman Gary Samuels said yesterday that the company does not comment on the facts of lawsuits against it.
"I don't have anything to tell you about it except that it is a matter in litigation, and we are defending ourselves," he said.
Jim Conway, a senior fellow at the Institute for Health Care Improvement, a not-for-profit health research organization in Cambridge, Mass., said mislabeling errors happen in hospitals, though no figures are available about how often.
"We are seeing throughout the health care system examples of the wrong test, wrong patient are occurring," he said.
"It continues to fascinate me that we can track a FedEx package around the world. We have to have the same attention for the patients."
Yurosko is healthy today, but said she worries about future side effects of the radiation treatments. Medical studies have shown people who have undergone radiation treatments have a higher risk for heart and lung problems.
And when she looks in the mirror every morning, Yurosko sees the surgical scar on her left breast, a daily reminder of her ordeal. It has left her scared to walk into a doctor's office.
"You go to professionals and you trust people to do their jobs because it involves your life," she said. "I hate to go to doctors now."