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Colorado mom gets total hysterectomy to treat cancer that she never had

Taylor Castillo, was trying to have more kids and needed help in the summer of 2018 but instead of help she was told she had cancer. And so, for eight weeks she “prepared herself, her husband, and her young daughter for the very real possibility that she might die”1 only to find out that the test was contaminated, and she never had cancer at all.

“Stunned by a uterine cancer diagnosis – doctors called it high-grade serous carcinoma – the 36-year-old understood what everyone was telling her. A hysterectomy was her best, if not only, option.

On Aug. 27, 2018, doctors inside Swedish Medical Center removed Castillo’s uterus and ovaries before calling the surgery a complete success.

Three weeks later, Taylor found out the truth. There had been a mistake.

There was no cancer. The hysterectomy – a procedure that ended her dream of having a large family – was the net result of what Swedish eventually called a “contaminant” in the hospital’s pathology lab.”1

A statement from Swedish Medical Center read in part, “We offer our deepest sympathy to the patient and her family. Patient safety is paramount at our hospital. This is a very unfortunate and rare event.”1

How did this happen? After not being able to get pregnant her obstetrician recommended additional testing. Via laparoscopy, a small piece of tissue was taken from the lining of her uterus and sent off to the Swedish Medical Center Pathology Department and its lab.

“On August 15, 2018, while acting on the request for a second opinion, a lab at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, tested the tissue sample again.

The results were even worse. ‘Highly suggestive of secondary involvement by high-grade serous carcinoma of tubal or ovarian origin.’”1

Because her cancer was driven by estrogen, she was unable to harvest her eggs and with that the possibility of the Castillo’s having a big family totally disappeared.

“When she awoke from the surgery, Taylor initially heard what seemed to be very good news.

‘There were no visible tumors, no swelling, no inflammation. Nothing,’ she recalled a doctor telling her. ‘I was so glad it wasn’t worse, that they didn’t see anything, but I was also a little confused.’

Taylor said eventually she asked if the tissue sample from the biopsy could be tested again.

Not for cancer this time, however, but for DNA.”1

And on September 18th, 2018, a test done by NeoGenomics found that there had been a huge mistake. The report read that “Using STR (Short Tandem Repeat) of 12 different DNA fingerprinting makers, tissues labeled 2 & 3 show the same pattern, but tissue labeled 1 is completely different from a different individual.”1 Meaning, the tissue sample on the side that led to Taylor Castillo’s cancer diagnosis and hysterectomy contained cells from two people; the healthy cells were hers.

At some point, there had been some contamination…something that happens more than we know according to one of the leading researchers here in the U.S.

“Dr. John Pfiefer, a professor of Pathology and Immunology at the Washington University School of Medicine, believes it’s critical for patients to know, under specific circumstances, they have the right to raise their hands and ask for additional testing when facing things such as a cancer diagnosis.

‘You should not hesitate to ask for [a DNA test] if there is any concern that your result was due to a switch or contamination,’ he said.”1

Especially given that the test is only about $300, a small price to pay to save your organs. 

“Dr. Pfeifer’s research suggests as many as 1 to 2 percent of lab biopsy tests are inaccurate due to sample switches or outright contamination issues.

It’s a small number when it comes to percentages, but not when it comes to sheer volume considering the millions of biopsies that are done in the United States every year.”1

His work also suggests that no lab is immune.

Indeed, Dr. Pfeifer also believes that in cases like this, patients should expect a DNA test to verify no mistakes were made. (Did you know about this? I read health journals and medical stories all day long and have never heard about this. Why isn’t anyone talking about this?)

According to Taylor, the hospital has yet to explain how the mistake happened. And she’s both worried for the poor woman going through what she thought she was going through. But she’s also upset at being thrown into early menopause.

We don’t blame her.


  1. NBC