Thursday, September 3, 2009

Are TV ads causing cancer patients to distrust their providers?

You've probably seen direct-to-consumer or DTC ads on TV about cancer therapies. I don't watch too much television, so I don't consider myself an expert when it comes to these types of ads.

Do these television ads hurt or help patient-provider interactions in the world of oncology? To answer this question, a group of researchers did a study and published it in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol 27, No 25 (September 1), 2009: pp. 4182-4187. The study was titled, "Cancer-Related Direct-to-Consumer Advertising: Awareness, Perceptions, and Reported Impact Among Patients Undergoing Active Cancer Treatment"

The authors on the paper were: Gregory A. Abel, MD, MPH, Harold J. Burstein, MD, PhD, Nathanael D. Hevelone, MPH, and Jane C. Weeks, MD. From the Center for Outcomes and Policy Research and the Division of Women's Cancers, Department of Medical Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.

So what did the investigators find?
  • A majority of those aware reported that cancer-related direct-to-consumer advertising (CR-DTCA) made them "aware of treatments they did not know about" (62.2%), provided information in "a balanced manner" (65.2%), and helped them to have "better discussions" with their provider (56.8%).
  • These perceptions were significantly more favorable among those who had not graduated from college (P < .05 for each).
  • Overall, 11.2% reported that CR-DTCA made them "less confident" in their providers' judgment.
  • Of those aware, 17.3% reported talking to their provider about an advertised medication, although less than one fifth of those reported receiving a prescription for the advertised medication.
  • The authors conclude that CR-DTCA was found to be accessible and useful; however, it decreased some patients' confidence in their providers' judgment.
Are patients too demanding? Or are they becoming more educated through these ads and are they simply trying to make informed decisions? Are these ads misleading patients? You're only going to find ads on TV from the newest drugs, so don't expect ads about old drugs, generics, etc.

The JCO abstract can be found here:

Speaking of Dana-Farber, I did some cancer research when I was a student at MIT. Those were the days. I used to ride my bike across the Harvard bridge or take the T to get to the hospital. I miss those Boston days. Life was so simple back then. If only I could go back in time...

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