Cancer hospital ads mislead patients about survival chances, report says

Cancer hospitals often use patient testimonials in advertisements that promote atypical patient experiences and outcomes, according to an investigation from TruthInAdvertising.org.

The yearlong investigation looked at the marketing materials from 50 cancer centers that spent the most on advertising in 2017. Boca Raton, Fla.-based Cancer Treatment Centers of America was at the top of the list, accounting for almost $69 million of the more than $140 million these hospitals spent on advertising, according to the report.

The report found almost 90 percent of the cancer centers still operating in 2018 (43 of 48) deceptively promoted atypical patient experiences through powerful patient testimonials.

TruthInAdvertising.org catalogued more than 700 testimonials featuring patients with cancer types that have a less than 50 percent five-year survival rate. "[These patients] have been deceptively used in marketing materials to advance the narrative, either explicitly or implicitly, that treatment at a particular cancer center will provide patients with a therapeutic advantage, allowing them to beat the odds and live beyond five years," the report said.

In each testimonial, the cancer center did not clearly disclose that cancer types portrayed in the advertisements have a 50 percent chance or greater of dying within five years.

After uncovering these findings, TruthInAdvertising.org filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Cancer Treatment Centers of America and put the other 42 cancer centers on notice that they are using deceptive marketing practices.

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