Spending on Cancer Center Advertising Tripled Over 10 Years

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Laura B. Vater, MPH MD Candidate 2017 Indiana University School of Medicine

Laura Vater

Laura B. Vater, MPH
MD Candidate 2017
Indiana University School of Medicine

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: In the United States, cancer center advertisements are common. Previous research has shown that these ads use emotion-based techniques to influence viewers and omit information about benefits, risks, and costs of cancer treatment. There is a concern that cancer center advertising may increase demand for unnecessary tests and treatments, increase healthcare costs, and provide unrealistic expectations about the benefits of cancer treatment.

In this study, we examined cancer center advertising spending from 2005 to 2014, with particular attention to trends within media (television networks, magazines, newspapers, radio stations, billboards, and the Internet) and by target audience (national versus local).

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Response: We found that spending on cancer center advertising has more than tripled since 2005, with the greatest percentage increase in Internet advertising. A total of 890 cancer centers advertised over this period, and total advertising spending increased from $54 million in 2005 to $173 million in 2014.

Advertising spending was heavily concentrated among a small proportion of cancer centers. Twenty cancer centers accounted for 86% of total spending in 2014, and one center—Cancer Treatment Centers of America—accounted for 59% of total spending ($102 million).

Among these 20 centers with the highest spending in 2014, five were for-profit, more than half were not designated by the National Cancer Institute, and three were not accredited by the Commission on Cancer.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Spending on cancer center advertising has increased substantially over the last 10 years, and a small number of cancer centers are responsible for the majority of spending. The public should be aware that cancer centers that spend the most on advertising may not necessarily provide the highest quality of cancer care. It is important for patients to view advertisements with scrutiny and for physicians and cancer organizations to help patients evaluate cancer center quality when making treatment choices.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Our study did not examine the effect of cancer center ads on patients. An important next step would be to ask cancer patients if they are aware of cancer center ads and assess if and how these ads have affected their choices.

It would also be interesting to examine how cancer center advertising affects healthcare costs and quality of care


Laura B. Vater, Julie M. Donohue, Seo Young Park, Yael Schenker. Trends in Cancer-Center Spending on Advertising in the United States, 2005 to 2014. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2016; DOI:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.0780

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on July 11, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD