Threefold Growth in Cancer Center Ads

Oncology Business News®, August 2016,

Television garners the most advertising dollars from cancer centers, but print and Internet media have seen threefold increases in cancer ads,

Television garners the most advertising dollars from cancer centers, but print and Internet media have seen threefold increases in cancer ads, according to a study of promotional spending among 890 cancer centers across the country from 2005 to 2014. Total spending in 2014 on cancer center ads was $173.5 million, up from $54.2 million in 2005.

A very small number of cancer centers accounted for the most dollars being spent on advertising, the study found. Twenty cancer centers accounted for 86% of the total $173.5 million in advertising dollars spent in 2014. Whereas many small practices were included in the study, some of the biggest spenders were groups of individual sites under centralized management and with broad geographical distribution.

A handful of other types of advertising were included in the study, and those also saw increases in spending. They included Internet display ads, which are fixed ads appearing on Web pages; radio; and billboard ads. Each of those categories rose only modestly to $10 million or less by 2014.

Authors of the study wrote that it is important to understand cancer center spending because it can have both good and bad results. “Understanding the trends in the advertising spending of cancer centers and the characteristics of the centers that spend the most can inform the debate about the effect of their advertisements,” the authors wrote. On the plus side, they said, advertising informs patients about the availability of treatments and also helps to reduce the stigma of having cancer. On the minus side, advertising can mislead the consumer, ramp up demand for unnecessary tests and treatments, damage existing physician-patient relationships, and increase healthcare costs, they said.

aPrint media includes magazines and newspapers

bKantar Media did not report internet search advertising data until 2010

The study was conducted by researchers from the Indiana School of Medicine and the University of Pittsburgh. Kantar Media keeps track of advertising across major media channels, recording the type of ads, the number of ads, and dollars expended. In this study, advertisers were considered to be cancer centers if their institutional names included the words “cancer,” “oncology,” radiation,” or another type of cancer therapy, such as “CyberKnife.” Cancer center websites were not considered to be advertising.

The largest advertiser of all was Cancer Treatment Centers of America, a national network of 5 hospitals, which spent $101.7 million on advertising in 2014. That outlay amounts to 59% of total advertising for 2014 and breaks down as follows: $58.7 million for national advertising, $24.2 million for local advertising, and $18.7 million for Internet advertising. The authors said only 2 other cancer centers included in the study spent more than $9 million: MD Anderson Cancer Center, with $13.9 million in ads; and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, $9.1 million.

Of the 20 cancer centers that accounted for the 86% portion of advertising in 2014, 5 (25%) were for-profit, 17 (85%) were Commission on Cancer-accredited, and 9 (45%) were NCI-designated. The authors said that 35 out of 60 NCIdesignated cancer centers advertised in 2014, with individual outlays ranging from $900 to $13.9 million. They said half of those centers spent less than $4,000 on advertising, one-quarter spent more than $100,000, and 5 (8%) spent over $1 million.

Among all of the categories of advertising, the greatest relative growth in spending by cancer centers was in Internet display advertisements, which rose from less than 1% of total advertising spending in 2005 to 5% by 2014. The respective dollar totals were $302,030 in spending in 2005 and $8.6 million in 2014.

Certain types of advertising were excluded from the study, and therefore it’s likely that cancer centers spent more, the authors wrote. For example, advertising in cancer-specific magazines was not included, nor were certain types of medical center advertising for cancer services. Charitable promotions were also left out.

The authors expressed concerns that cancer advertising may be the chief source of information about cancer treatment that patients receive but may not provide them with everything they need to know. “Spending on advertisements 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,” they concluded.


Vater LB, Donohue JM, Park SY, Schenker Y. Trends in cancer-center spending on advertising in the United States, 2005 to 2014 . JAMA Intern Med. Published July 2016. Accessed July 14, 2016.

Eleven years ago, television spending for cancer center ads was just under $40 million, and in 2014 that spending reached $85 million, in inflation-adjusted 2014 dollars, according to the study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. During that same period, print media and Internet search engine advertising— which comes attached to results of search engine queries—climbed dramatically. Print advertising was roughly $35 million in 2014, well up from the $10 million spent in 2005. Search engine advertising was $30 million in 2014, up from $10 million in 2010, when Kantar Media—the origin of the raw study data—began tracking this form of advertising.