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Consumer-Focused Cancer Center Ads Hone in on Emotions

Little information actually provided about treatment risks, benefits, costs

FRIDAY, May 30, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Cancer centers' direct-to-consumer advertisements often utilize emotional appeal, with little information about risks, benefits, and costs, according to research published online May 27 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Laura B. Vater, M.P.H., from the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues analyzed content of direct-to-consumer advertisements (269 magazine ads; 44 television ads) for cancer centers. Clinical services mentioned, including type, risks, benefits, costs, and insurance availability, were analyzed, as were emotional appeals.

The researchers found that 102 centers placed 409 unique advertisements in top media markets in 2012. Treatments were promoted more often than screening or supportive services (88 percent versus 18 and 13 percent, respectively). The benefits of therapies were described more often than associated risks (27 versus 2 percent), but both were rarely quantified (2 percent). Coverage and costs were rarely mentioned (5 percent) and specific insurance plans were never mentioned. There were frequent emotional appeals (85 percent), most often mentioning hope for survival (61 percent), describing treatment as a fight or battle (41 percent), and inducing fear (30 percent). Patient testimonials were included in almost half of advertisements.

"Further work is needed to understand how these advertisements influence patient understanding and expectations of benefit from cancer treatments," the authors write.

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