Michael Douglas and Missed Diagnosis

September 3, 2010

The wife of actor Michael Douglas recently said she was “furious” that doctors did not locate and treat her husband’s throat cancer earlier, indicating it would have improved his chance of survival. The Oscar-winner’s diagnosis shocked many, both because of who he is and because what was initially thought to be a sore throat turned out to be something far worse.

The wife of actor Michael Douglas recently said she was “furious” that doctors did not locate and treat her husband’s throat cancer earlier, indicating it would have improved his chance of survival. The Oscar-winner’s diagnosis shocked many, both because of who he is and because what was initially thought to be a sore throat turned out to be something far worse.

Douglas’s wife, actress Catherine Zeta Jones, told People Magazine this week that he “sought every option and nothing was found. I knew something was up. He knew something was up.”

In discussing his cancer with David Letterman earlier this week, Douglas said he was battling a persistent sore throat and underwent numerous tests that all turned up inconclusive. It wasn’t until his personal physician actually saw something strange, took a biopsy and learned the true cause of the actor’s pain - a tumor at the base of his tongue.

Douglas has since completed his first week of radiation and chemotherapy to treat what he called “stage four cancer” in his discussion with Letterman. Doctors say the actor has an 80 percent chance of survival, but that the treatment road ahead will be tough.

Zeta Jones told People that, “It makes me furious they didn’t detect it earlier.”

Now this year, we’ve seen numerous studies indicating that doctors, despite having medical malpractice insurance, are doing more testing on patients to cover all bases. We’ve even heard from physicians on the matter.

I don’t know the testing Douglas underwent. I don’t know the discussions had between doctors and his family. I don’t know how involved Zeta Jones was in seeking multiple opinions.

What I do know is the simple fact that doctors continued to work to diagnose the actor. They did not dismiss his pain. They tried what the actor admits was a battery of tests and only when his own physician thought he saw something was a biopsy taken.

Doctors are not infallible. They are persistent and seek to remedy whatever ailment is presented by patients. Sometimes, with the information given, they get to a correct diagnosis on the first attempt, sometimes it is the 100th attempt.

I understand Zeta Jones’s frustration and anger. It is to be expected from someone whose loved one has been diagnosed with cancer. She has every right to be mad. But her anger should not be directed solely at her husband’s doctors.

I have no doubt that a little anger and frustration is also felt on their part too.