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Research letter examines cancer center advertising spending

The JAMA Network Journals

Total spending on advertising to the public by 890 cancer centers in the United States was $173 million in 2014, according to an article published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Cancer centers commonly advertise clinical services directly to the public. This practice has potential benefits by alerting patents to available treatments and removing stigma from cancer but also potential risks including creating false hope and increasing demand for unnecessary tests and treatments.

Laura B. Vater, M.P.H., of the Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, and coauthors conducted a descriptive analysis of cancer-center advertising. They analyzed data from an agency that tracks the content and number of advertisements and calculates expenditures.

An advertiser was considered a cancer center if its name contained certain key words. Advertising expenditure data covered six media outlets: television, magazine, radio, newspapers, billboards and the internet.

The authors report that in 2014, 20 cancer centers accounted for 86 percent of the $173 million total advertising spending by cancer centers. Cancer Treatment Centers of America spent the most at $101.7 million followed by MD Anderson Cancer Center at $13.9 million and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center at $9.1 million, according to the research letter

Among the 20 centers, 5 were for-profit, 17 were Commission on Cancer-accredited and nine were National Cancer Institute-designated.

The authors note their findings likely underestimate advertising spending because the available data didn't include some other types of advertising.

"Spending on advertising is not a measure of quality of care, and physicians and cancer-care organizations should help patients make informed cancer treatment decisions. The effect of cancer-center advertising on the quality and costs of cancer care should be better understood," the authors conclude.

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(JAMA Intern Med. Published online July 11, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.0780. Available pre-embargo to the media at http://media.jamanetwork.com.)

Editor's Note: The article contains funding/support disclosures. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

Media Advisory: To contact corresponding study author Laura B. Vater, M.P.H., call Eric Schoch at 317-274-8205 or email eschoch@iu.edu.

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