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Advertising by Cancer Centers Tripled Over the Last Decade


Promotional advertising by cancer centers has seen a dramatic spike in recent years, with 890 cancer centers spending $173 million for advertising in 2014.

Promotional advertising by cancer centers has seen a dramatic spike in recent years, according to research published in JAMA Internal Medicine. This included 890 cancer centers spending $173 million for advertising in 2014, with 20 centers accounting for 86% of the spending.

Using data from Kantar Media, for the period beginning January 1, 2005 and ending December 31, 2014, researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Graduate School of Public Health, classified advertisers as a cancer center if their name included any of the words “cancer,” “oncology,” “radiation,” or another cancer therapy. Medical centers were excluded unless they advertised for a cancer clinic, center, or institute. The focus of the research was on 6 media channels: television, magazines, radio, newspapers, billboards, and the Internet. Further, the centers were sorted based on:

  • National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation status
  • Commission on Cancer accreditation status
  • Tax-exemption status
  • Metropolitan location(s)
  • Number of locations

While the authors found a growth in spending (inflation-adjusted) on all types of cancers, Internet display advertisements seemed to see the biggest growth—from less than 1% of total advertising spending in 2005 ($302,030) to 5% ($8,663,000) in 2014.

Of the 20 cancer centers that spent the highest on advertising dollars in 2014, Cancer Treatment Centers of America topped the list, accounting for nearly 60% of the bulk spending by the 20 cancer centers ($101.7 million). It was followed, by more than a mile, by MD Anderson Cancer Center ($13.9 million) and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center ($9.1 million). Overall, 5 of the 20 were for-profit, 17 were accredited by the Commission on Cancer, and 9 were NCI-designated centers.

Thirty-five of 60 NCI-designated centers advertised in 2014 spent between $900 and $13.9 million—50% of the 35 spent less than $4000 and 5 spent more than $1 million.

“Patients should be aware that cancer centers that spend the most on advertising may not necessarily provide the highest quality of cancer care,” said first author Laura Vater, MPH, from the Indiana University School of Medicine. She emphasized the need to further study the impact of advertising on the cost and quality of patient care.

Another concern raised by senior author Yael Schenker, MD, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is the impact of online advertising. “More work is needed to understand the effects of cancer center advertising on the web, as more and more people search for health information on line. One concern is that when advertisements are listed at the top of internet search results, patient may have trouble finding and recognizing good information,” she said.


Vater LB, Donohue JM, Park SY, Schenker Y. Trends in cancer-center spending on advertising in the United States, 2005 to 2014 [published online July 11, 2016]. JAMA Int Med. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.0780.

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