Cancer is a killer, claiming more than 8 million lives a year worldwide.
Cancer also is a big business, ringing up about $100 billion a year globally for treatments.
And like a lot of businesses, cancer is a big advertiser – and getting bigger by the year.
How big? The nation’s 890 cancer centers laid out $173 million for advertising in 2014 — an increase of more than 300 percent over the past decade.
That’s according to a new analysis by researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Graduate School of Public Health. The analysis was reported Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
The bulk of the advertising spending was done by for-profit institutions. Altogether, just 20 cancer centers accounted for nearly 90 percent of industry advertising, the studied found. None of them are in Indiana.
Of those 20, five were for-profit institutions, the research found.
By comparison, 25 of the nation’s 60 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers spend no money on advertising.
“If current trends continue, cancer center advertising may constitute a major source of patient information, raising concerns given evidence of imbalanced advertising content,” the study said.
The single biggest cancer advertiser was Cancer Treatment Centers of America, a for-profit based in Boca Raton, Florida. The company spent $101.7 million on advertising in 2014, representing 59 percent of industry advertising, some of them featuring patients.
In a statement, the company responded that advertising represents “just one way in which we engage consumers.”
“All of the individuals featured in our communications have been treated at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, and have volunteered to share their stories without any compensation in the interest of helping others who receive a similar diagnosis,” the company said.
It added that all advertising “undergoes meticulous review for clinical accuracy.”
But the study argued that in addition to informing patients, cancer advertising can include misleading information. It can also “create false hopes, increasing demand for unnecessary tests and treatments,” which can increase health care costs.
The study used data from Kantar Media, a research firm that tracks the content and number of advertisements.
The lead researcher was Laura B. Vater, a fourth-year medical student at the IU School of Medicine.