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Woman dies after incorrectly being told cancer screening test found 'no abnormalities'

Health officials bow in apology at the beginning of a news conference at Gifu City Hall on the afternoon of July 16, 2019. (Mainichi)

GIFU -- The Gifu Municipal Government told a woman in her 50s that a cancer screening test she underwent found "no abnormalities" when she actually needed further detailed testing, city officials admitted on July 16. The woman died of cancer in hospital the same day as the announcement.

City officials said the woman, a resident of the city, applied to undergo screening for stomach cancer at the Central Public Health Center in Gifu on Jan. 10. On Jan. 28, she received notification telling her that no abnormalities had been found.

The woman underwent testing at a different medical facility in April, where it was learned that she had lung cancer that had metastasized from her stomach. Her family became suspicious about her previous test result and when they checked with the Central Public Health Center on July 10, the city admitted it had made a mistake. City officials apologized the following day.

Officials said that notifications sent to people following cancer screening tests are based on test results sent from private medical institutions. As a general rule two workers are supposed to read and verify the results, but only one worker did so this time, and made a mistake.

Following the error, the city rechecked notifications sent to about 160,000 people who underwent screening over the past five years for lung cancer, tuberculosis, stomach cancer, breast cancer and bowel cancer. They found that four other women besides the woman who died, aged from their 50s to 70s, had similarly been told there were no abnormalities when they should have been told they needed detailed testing or required caution. Officials said none of the women were currently showing signs of cancer.

City officials acknowledged that if the woman who died had been told sooner that she needed a detailed checkup, she could have received treatment at an early stage.

Gifu Mayor Masanao Shibahashi said the city would work to prevent a recurrence of such an incident.

"It is extremely regrettable that trust in cancer screening has been lost, and we will thoroughly work to prevent a recurrence," he said.

(Japanese original by Ryusuke Takahashi, Gifu Bureau)

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