US cancer centers have dramatically increased their spending on advertising to promote their services, and the bulk of this spending was by for-profit organizations. Researchers reported that 890 cancer centers spent $173 million for advertising in 2014, with just 20 centers accounting for 86% of that spending.1

“Spending on cancer center advertising has more than tripled since 2005, and a small percent of cancer centers are responsible for the majority of spending. Patients should be aware that cancer centers that spend the most on advertising may not necessarily provide the highest quality of cancer care,” said Laura Vater, MPH, a fourth-year medical student at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, and first author of the study.

Of the 20 centers that accounted for the bulk of spending, 5 were for-profit institutions, 17 were accredited by the Commission on Cancer, and 9 were National Cancer Institute-designated centers.

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Fifty-nine percent, $101.7 million, of the total advertising spending came from 1 company: Cancer Treatment Centers of America. The for-profit firm has a national network of 5 hospitals.

The next 2 biggest advertisers in 2014 were MD Anderson Cancer Center, which spent $13.9 million, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which spent $9.1 million.

In contrast, no money was spent on advertising by 26 of the nation’s 60 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers. Of those that did spend money on advertising, half spent less than $4000.

Vater stated that additional work is needed to better understand how advertising may affect the cost and quality of care.

This study used data from Kantar Media, an agency that tracks advertising and calculates expenditures. They obtained data for television, magazine, radio, newspaper, billboard, and Internet advertising. The expenditures were adjusted to 2014 US dollars using the Consumer Price Index.

Spending in all advertising categories increased from 2005 to 2014, led by television where $37 million spent in 2005 peaked at $107 million in 2011. Television spending declined somewhat after that, but still stood at $87 million in 2014. Print media spending increased from $11 million to $34 million. In a time when Internet advertising was growing, cancer center online ads were among them, as spending on Internet display advertisements went from $300,000 in 2005 to $9 million in 2014.

“More work is needed to understand the effects of cancer center advertising on the web, as more and more people search for health information online,” said Yael Schenker, MD, assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pennsylvania, and senior author of the study. “One concern is that when advertisements are listed at the top of Internet search results, patients may have trouble finding and recognizing good information.”

The authors noted that expenditure calculations could be low because advertising in cancer-specific magazines was not included, nor was advertising by affiliated organizations designed to encourage charitable donations.


1. Vater LB, Donohue JM, Park SY, et al. Trends in cancer-center spending on advertising in the United States, 2005 to 2014. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2016 Jul 11. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.0780. [Epub ahead of print]