A Common Medical Error: Lung Cancer Misdiagnosed as Sputum Negative Tuberculosis


Objective: To emphasize that delay in diagnosis of lung cancer can be caused by the wrong diagnosis oftuberculosis (TB) in TB endemic countries. This is of major concern as early-diagnosis of lung cancer can increasethe chance of tumor resectability and timely chemo-radiotherapy may provide better quality of life.
Methods:Proven lung cancer patients, who had received anti-tubercular treatment (ATT) since onset of current symptoms,were studied retrospectively during the period of Nov-07 to Nov-08. Data-source: Patient interview and medicalrecords.
Results: Total of 14 out of 70 patients received wrong diagnosis of TB and had received ATT [male-12,female-2; mean age-58.07±6.81; Non Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)-12, Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)-2],12 were smokers with median smoking pack-years of 44(15 to 112). Pre-referral sputum Acid fast Bacilli (AFB)was done in only 3 out of these 14 patients and sputum AFB was negative in these 3 patients. ATT was started onthe basis of chest X-ray finding and clinical symptoms. Mean duration of ATT taken was 4.46±3.15 months.
Conclusion: Due to high TB prevalence and radiological similarities, a large number of lung cancer patientsinitially get wrongly treated for TB. Also, clinicians associate lung cancer with high case-fatality and start ATTwithout detailed investigation. Altogether, this leads to delay in diagnosis and progression of disease.