Consumer News

Cancer Care: What Advertisements Are Not Saying

Study questions emotional appeals.

Consumer News

Cancer Care: What Advertisements Are Not Saying


Are ads that promote cancer treatment centers leading to unreasonable expectations for care? The Annals of Internal Medicine published what it called the first comprehensive analysis of the issue this week.

The analysis began by noting that proponents of this type of health-care advertising argue that it provides valuable information about screening and treatment options. But critics are concerned that such advertising exaggerates therapeutic benefits and drives inappropriate demands for clinical services. Said the study:

These concerns may be particularly heightened for cancer centers because patients with advanced cancer often overestimate the potential benefit they will receive from new treatments or their chance for cure.

The analysis reviewed all cancer center advertisements for clinical services in top consumer magazines and on television. The review of 409 ads placed by 102 cancer centers found:

  • Cancer therapies were promoted more often than supportive or screening services and were frequently described in vague terms, which could prompt patients to pursue care that is either unnecessary or unsupported by scientific evidence.
  • Advertisements commonly used emotional appeals of hope for survival, while providing relatively limited information about the benefits, risks, costs or insurance coverage of advertised therapies. This might lead to patients feeling distressed if services proved unaffordable.
  • Despite FTC requirements that testimonials include disclaimers and a description of results that a typical patient will obtain, the testimonials in advertisements focused on survival and rarely included disclaimers.

The study, which was based on 2012 data and noted several limitations with its methodology, called for further research.

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