Hundreds Misdiagnosed with Cancer Due to Software Error

Several life insurance companies promoting the testing firm’s cancer detection product are pausing their relationship with the company because of the software error

Hundreds of individuals who purchased a biotech firm’s early cancer detection blood test received erroneous letters from the company last month, incorrectly informing them they may have cancer.

According to a New York Times report published on Sunday, about 400 customers of the healthcare technology company Grail may have received letters misdiagnosing cancer between May 10 and May 18.

The letters concerned results from Grail’s Galleri test, marketed as an early detection tool that can detect up to 50 types of cancer using a few drops of blood. However, Grail became aware of an error on May 19, when its telemedicine vendor PWN Health revealed that its automated communication system used the wrong template to send customer letters. PWN Health did not specify what caused the “software misconfiguration error,” but promptly corrected the issue, according to the statement.

Grail also indicated it informed customers who received the erroneous letter of the mistake by phone and email. None of the cancer misdiagnosis letters were caused by inaccurate Galleri test results, the company claims.

Cancer Misdiagnosis Risks

A wide range of problems can result from misdiagnosed cancer, including unnecessary medical treatments or life decisions an individual may not have otherwise made.

Prior research has found that within the medical community cancer misdiagnosis cost billions in unnecessary health costs every year, as well as undue stress in affected patients, which may result in missed screenings and lack of early treatment due to the emotional impact of a misdiagnosis.

A 2020 study, for example, highlighted how misdiagnosing skin cancer can lead to patient panic, unnecessary healthcare tests, and treatment. The resulting emotional stress can cause patient reluctance in undergoing future screenings, which may delay diagnosis of cancer that is actually present.

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While actual Grail cancer testing did not cause the inaccurate letters sent to customers, several life insurance companies that marketed the test to policyholders are reportedly pausing that business relationship until further review. The companies promoted the $950 test, currently available by prescription only, to policyholders as way to potentially reduce their life insurance premiums.

Early detection tests like the Grail Galleri are often advertised as quick, easy tools that can identify dozens of different cancer types with a few drops of blood. But research indicates that cancers such as melanoma are often overdiagnosed with early screening tools. Melanoma overdiagnosis, breast cancer overdiagnosis from mammograms, and other types of cancer overdiagnosis can lead to unnecessary treatment, causing potentially fatal health problems.

In 2010, for example, a medical malpractice cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit alleged that a West Virginia doctor gave chemotherapy to a man who did not actually have cancer. According to the lawsuit, the man died due to the effects of the unnecessary cancer treatment.


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