Demand for cancer care is increasing rapidly in the United States and a growing number of cancer centers are marketing their clinical services directly to patients through consumer advertising. Researchers conducted a rigorous content review of 409 unique television and magazine advertisements for 102 cancer centers to characterize their informational and emotional content.
The researchers assessed each ad for types of clinical services promoted, information provided about those services, use of emotional appeals, and the use of patient testimonials and disclaimers. The analysis showed that the majority of cancer centers (88 percent) promoted cancer treatments rather than screening (18 percent) or supportive services (13 percent). Ads tended promote benefits of advertised therapies more often than risks, with no specific data offered to support claims. Eighty-five percent of advertisements used emotional appeals that seemed to equate treatment with cure, and more often focused a cure (85 percent) rather than comfort, quality of life, or patient-centered care (43 percent). Patient testimonials were featured in about half of cancer center ads and the majority of those (79 percent) focused on stories about survival or cure. The authors suggest that cancer center ads that evoke emotions of fear and hope may lead patients to pursue care that is either unnecessary or unsupported by scientific evidence.