Lung Abscess vs. Lung Cancer: My Initial Misdiagnosis

When I was first diagnosed, what led me to make an appointment with my physician was that I had been waking up each night with 102 to 103 fever. I would take my Tylenol and go back to sleep. Upon waking up for work, I would take two more just to make sure it didn't come back. After about four weeks, I saw my giant bottle of Tylenol was gone. It was time to call the doctor.

Other than my fever, I felt fine. Absolutely nothing else was wrong, which made my diagnosis even more difficult. We all read about misdiagnosis and now this was happening to me.

A misdiagnosis of lung abscess

My doc sent me for a CT scan and promptly informed me I had lung cancer but due to my fever, he was admitting me to the hospital. After 8 days, numerous tests, and a biopsy later, I was told I had a lung abscess. Lung abscesses can develop from different strains of bacteria. Primary abscesses usually develop from lung infections, like pneumonia. Secondary abscesses can develop because of other issues, such as a lung obstruction or as a result of inhaling foreign materials.1

My healthcare team must have asked me 100 times, "Are you a drinker?" I thought they were crazy.  I hardly have one glass of wine a year. I later found out that alcoholics can have multiple lung abscesses quite often. I had a PICC line (a central line used for frequent blood draws or to give medicines, like antibiotics) inserted and was sent home and instructed how to administer the IV's myself. I endured this for 6 weeks. Then another CT scan, nodules still there. Finally, another biopsy.

An accurate lung cancer diagnosis

This time... it was lung cancer. [Insert uncontrollable crying.]

Then I realized, thank goodness they found it. But, then I wondered, how many other people has this happened to. As cancer patients, we read all types of stories of how people were misdiagnosed and for numerous reasons. Telling me I had a lung abscess was an unusual way to discover my cancer, but I am proof it can happen.

As patients, we MUST be proactive in our care.  If you are in the process of being diagnosed and come across this article, please make sure your healthcare team is screening you for lung cancer. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE A SMOKER OR FORMER SMOKER.

Our jobs as advocates is to educate the population about lung cancer, mentor newly-diagnosed patients, and raise funds for research. But if I can help one other person who is being they have an abscess or even the common chest cold, and they ask their doctor to do more testing, then my job is complete. I have accomplished what I want.

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on January 28, 2020, Jennifer Toth passed away. Jennifer was a passionate advocate for the Lung Cancer community. She will be deeply missed.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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