The Top 5 Most Misdiagnosed Cancers in the UK


Cancer remains one of the UK’s biggest killers and a misdiagnosis can be fatal. In this article, we’ll take a look at the top five most misdiagnosed cancers in the UK.

Catching the signs of cancer early can make a huge difference to a person’s chances of survival from what can commonly be a fatal illness. Signs of cancer can be subtle and are often missed or misdiagnosed as something else.

The later cancer is left untreated the more chance it has to spread to other parts of the body making it more difficult to recover from. Even with today’s available treatment to combat the illness, if misdiagnosed or not treated it can mean no route of treatment will help.

If someone you know has been misdiagnosed there is a process to follow to ensure all cancer misdiagnosis claims are assessed and awarded fairly to help with the cost of treatment. 

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the five most commonly diagnosed cancers in the UK. 

What Are the 5 Most Diagnosed Cancers in the UK?

Shockingly, figures show that around 40% of cancer patients are misdiagnosed in the UK, at least once before receiving the correct diagnosis. These cancers include:


Lymphoma is a type of cancer which attacks the cells of the body’s immune system. This type of cancer is generally split into two different illnesses – Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The latter being the most common with around 14,200 new UK cases every year. 

Lymphoma is often misdiagnosed by British doctors, primarily due to the fact the symptoms, which include night sweats, weight loss and fatigue, are also commonly attributed to a number of other, less serious illnesses. 

Breast Cancer

When caught early, breast cancer patients have an extremely good chance of survival. However, this is a commonly misdiagnosed type of cancer. In the UK, approximately 55,000 women and 370 men are diagnosed with cancer every year. 

While diagnosis figures are high, this is not the whole story. As well as a great number of cases being missed, there is also a high level of over-diagnosis whereby patients are mistakenly diagnosed with breast cancer and, in some cases, undergo painful surgery and treatment unnecessarily. 

It’s thought that over-diagnosis is linked to the NHS breast cancer screening program, but  while overdiagnosis is a concern, according to a recent study, this is all about proportion. 

Joint lead investigator of the study, Professor Stephen Duffy, says, “These results provide some reassurance that participation in the NHS breast screening programme confers only a low risk of an over diagnosed breast cancer. Along with the results of our previous study of the effect of screening on breast cancer mortality, this indicates that the benefit of screening in preventing deaths from breast cancer outweighs the small risk of overdiagnosis.”

Colon Cancer

Also known as colorectal cancer, this type of cancer usually occurs in the colon, rectum or bowel and usually affects men and women over the age of 50. Colon cancer is often misdiagnosed by UK doctors, leading to a significant number of medical negligence claims as, if left undiagnosed, the survival rate for colon cancer drops from 91% to just 14%. 

This type of cancer – and the importance of getting checked – was highlighted earlier this year following the death of bowel cancer campaigner, Dame Deborah James (also known as Bowel Babe). 

Lung Cancer

Although commonly associated with smoking, lung cancer can affect people of any age and any lifestyle. A staggering two thirds of all UK lung cancer sufferers are not diagnosed until a late stage, at which point, it’s often too late. 

Misdiagnosis of lung cancer is common due to the fact that this disease tends to start slowly, and patients will often have little to no symptoms in the early stages. 

In the UK, lung cancer is routinely misdiagnosed as either pneumonia or bronchitis, meaning that patients will see their chance of survival drop to 10% or less. 

Skin Cancer

For some time now, we’ve been warned about the danger of developing skin cancer after either spending too much time in the sun or using tanning beds and salons. Despite this, there are around 16,700 skin cancer, or melanoma, cases in the UK every year, making this the fifth most common cancer. 

Skin cancer is identified by examining small sections of skin in a laboratory.UK GPs often dismiss symptoms such as suspicious skin marks, moles and growths every year, meaning that the disease goes undetected. 

Partly due to these errors, skin cancer accounts for around 2300 deaths in the UK every year. Over the years, the importance of checking for skin cancer has been highlighted by a number of celebrity sufferers including Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and former footballer turned actor, Vinnie Jones

When in doubt get a second opinion…

A cancer misdiagnosis can be devastating for sufferers and their loved ones and is certainly not helped with recent NHS delays and waiting times which have meant that patients are delayed in receiving vital treatment. 

Regular screening can significantly improve your chances of surviving cancer through early diagnosis. If you have not received a cancer diagnosis but feel that this may be an error, it’s incredibly important to return to your GP to explain your concerns.

If this is not taken seriously by your GP or healthcare professional, it’s always worth getting a second opinion, either by requesting to see a different doctor within the same practice or making an appointment with a different practice or clinic. 

If you are suffering from a cancer misdiagnosis, you should consider contacting a specialist medical solicitor who will be able to advise you of your options and help you to navigate the process should you have a case to gain financial compensation due to your misdiagnosis. 

Disclaimer: Please be advised that this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for advice from a trained medical professional. Be sure to consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you’re seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. We are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information on this site.