Think You're Seeing More and More Cancer Center Ads? That Would Be a Yes.

Over the last few years, the amount of advertising aimed directly to the consumer by cancer centers has skyrocketed. But are these ads giving consumers the information they need?

JAMA Internal Medicine just published a study that looked at spending by cancer centers on TV, print and online between 2005 and 2014.  Total ad spending by cancer centers in 2005 was just over $54 million.  In 20014, that number had more than tripled to $173.5 million.

The biggest spender, by far, was Cancer Treatment Centers of America.  The Florida-based for-profit chain operates facilities in Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Tulsa.  It spent nearly $102 million in advertising in 2014 or about 58% of the entire industry.

So what's in all these ads?  The same researchers looked at the content of TV cancer center ads in a 2014 study.  They found that the ads overwhelmingly market treatment (88%) instead of preventative screening (18%).  they also found that only 2% of the ads quantified the associated risks with the treatment being advertised, and only 5% gave an indication of the cost.

The ad study found that 85% of the advertisements included emotional appeals.  Emotional appeals were more commonly related to survival or potential for cure, rather than comfort, quality of life, or patient-centered care.

The researchers concluded that emotional appeals coupled with incomplete information are being widely used to promote cancer treatment services, even among the nation's most prestigious cancer center.  They warned that clinical advertisements that use emotional appeal without information about indications, benefits, risks or alternatives may lead patients to pursue care that is either unnecessary or unsupported by scientific evidence.

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