- Advertising by cancer centers in the U.S. is on the rise, fueled primarily by a handful of top spenders such as the for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America, according to a new study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
- In 2014, spending by the cancer centers included in the study totaled $173 million. A whopping 59% ($102 million) of that money came from just one organization - the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA).
- The top twenty centers by advertising spend accounted for 86% of total spending in 2014, data on which was obtained from advertisement agency Kantar Media.
While many centers actively advertising in 2014, the CTCA was far and away the heaviest spender, aggressively trying to raise its national profile.
CTCA has a network of five centers spread across the nation in Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Tulsa. Nearly 60% of its advertising last year was aimed at national audiences.
Although the CTCA is accredited by the Commission on Cancer, it is not part of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) network.
The center has been criticized in the past, including by a Reuters investigation in 2013, for presenting misleading data on its patients' survival rates. In 1996, the Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement with the CTCA for unsubstantiated claims, requiring the company to disclose when a testimonial was not typical.
The second and third top-spenders, respectively, were MD Anderson Cancer Center ($13.9 million) and Memorial Sloan Kettering Center ($9.1 million).
More than half of the 60 centers in the NCI network spent lass than $4,000 on advertising in 2014, and only 5 spent over $1 million. Both MD Anderson and Memorial Sloan Kettering are NCI designated.
While advertising by cancer centers can inform patients of options, there are some concerns that heavy marketing can drive false hope and mislead consumers.
In a related JAMA editorial, two doctors at Dartmouth pointed out some of the pitfalls they saw to be inherent in the emotional appeals typically used by advertising centers.
"Potentially misleading advertisements are a problem when they generate false hope; increase the use of new, expensive high-technology treatments that are unproven...or lure vulnerable patients to leave their home, family, and other support systems in their communities by the illusion of receiving better care," the doctors said.