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Digital Pathology Stands To Reduce Cancer Misdiagnoses

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There will be more than 1.7 million cases of cancer diagnosed in the U.S. this year, but a shocking number of those cases are actually misdiagnosed.

CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reported Wednesday on some new high-tech tools that hope to lead to the right diagnosis and treatment.

When Mike Minshall was told the tumor he had developed had been repeatedly misdiagnosed as benign, and that it actually was melanoma, he was devastated. He was told he had just two months to live.

"The tears well up in your eyes," Minshall said.

It turns out cancer misdiagnoses are not uncommon. Some studies find that as many as a third are incorrect—calling some tumors benign when they are malignant and the other way around, and subjecting patients to unnecessary treatment.

But the large majority of errors were in misclassifying the type of cancer.

Thanks to new technology, however, Minshall was able to get the correct diagnosis. He was started on a treatment that has him cancer free two years later.

"It has revolutionized cancer diagnostics, and this technology gives me the tools to answer the question, which I couldn't do that five years ago," said Dr. Anil Parwani of Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The expert second opinion from the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center, James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, was enabled by digital pathology. It is a huge improvement over the decades-old technique of placing tumor cells on glass slides for an examination under a microscope, getting them processed and mailed for review by specialists could take days, or even weeks.

"With digital pathology, you take those same glass slides and you digitize them and create millions of pixels, converting them into a large image," Parwani said.

The digital images are far easier to store, share and access, and a diagnosis can be completed in hours by pathologists specializing in that particular cancer – who can more accurately stage and grate specific types of malignancy.

"Thank God my son and daughter-in-law were pushing me and my wife to go and get this other opinion," Minshall said.

Even though this kind of telemedicine can bring expert diagnosis to the most remote areas, the most important message here is that if there is any question about whether you have cancer or about its type or stage, get a second opinion. It could save your life.

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