Study Finds Cancer Center Advertisements are High on Emotional Quotient, Low on Information

Published Date : May 28, 2014

A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine says that advertisements (both print and television) by cancer centers are high on the emotional quotient, but often do not provide information that aids decision-making. Senior author on the study Dr. Yael Schenker says that such emotional advertising could set unrealistic expectations. This is leading physicians to be concerned about the inappropriate demand for services that such advertising could be creating.

According to the team of researchers, many cancer centers in the United States use advertisements talking about their services, but the lack of research on the content of such advertisements is evident. Schenker says that such advertisements have become common and it is difficult for people to not notice them.

In fact, a special report by Reuters found that some cancer centers tend to skew data pertaining to survival figures so as to create an impression of superior outcomes to prospective patients. In order to analyze ads that may be attracting patients in such a manner, the team of researchers made use of a media monitoring service to tap cancer center advertisements that appeared on television networks and magazines during 2012. The team found a total of 409 advertisements placed by as many as 102 cancer centers during this year. They observed that treatments for cancer were promoted more than actual screening services. The advertisements also did not provide enough information about the risks, costs, and benefits of such services, said the researchers.

They said that nearly 88% advertisements spoke about treatments and only 18% promoted screening services to determine the presence of cancer. Nearly 61% of these advertisements mentioned hope for survival whereas 41% described cancer treatment using the words ‘battle’ or ‘fight’.

Furthermore, nearly 25% of such advertisements highlighted the benefits of treatment, but only 2% mentioned associated risks. The researchers also saw that just 5% of such advertisements mentioned service costs, and not a single advertisement tried to tell readers about any specific insurance plans.

Schenker said that nearly 1.6 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year and this number is slated to rise in the coming year. The researchers advise patients to rely only minimally on such advertisements while taking a decision about cancer treatment.