When my uncle passed away from colon cancer last year, I was ready for it – that is, as ready as you can be to lose a loved one to a terminal illness. Although his death was deeply sad, I was spared the shock because his doctors had always been honest with our family about his prognosis. Once he received the diagnosis, we knew we’d be lucky to have two more years with him.
When it comes to fighting a serious illness, it’s important to have hope – but it’s also important to have realistic expectations. Unfortunately, some cancer treatment centers are luring patients and their dollars by selling them an unwarranted belief that they can beat the odds. Truth in Advertising (TINA.org), calls it “the deceptive marketing of hope.”
TINA.org has published the results of a year-long investigation into the marketing of cancer treatment centers. One study focused on Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), the cancer center that spends more than any other on marketing – an estimated $110 million over the last three years. The other study analyzed 48 big-spending cancer care centers, including Sloan-Kettering, Dana-Farber, and NYU.
The results were disturbing.
TINA.org found that many of the biggest names in cancer care use deceptive practices in their marketing. Specifically, 43 out of 48 (yes, that’s 90 percent) used anecdotal patient testimonials that show atypical care results without disclosing what the “generally expected results for a patient in a similar situation would be.”
Testimonials featured patients with types of cancer that, more than half the time, result in death within five years. By showing unusual and rare recoveries, these cancer care centers give patients the false impression that, by choosing their care center, they will have “a therapeutic advantage, allowing them to beat the odds and live beyond five years.”
Testimonials also featured atypical results from new treatments and clinical trials, without disclosing that these treatments are experimental and that success is far from guaranteed.
TINA.org also conducted a specific investigation of CTCA, who in 1996 entered a consent agreement with the FTC that barred them from using deceptive testimonials. This agreement is near expiration, so TINA.org decided it was a good time to review CTCA’s marketing practices. They found 130 examples of deceptive testimonials in CTCA’s marketing.
This week, TINA.org sent a formal complaint to the FTC asking them to re-open their investigation of CTCA. They also sent notices to 42 cancer centers warning them that using atypical testimonials is illegal.