Study finds benefits and risk info presented differently in cancer drug ads

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Oncology drug advertisements appearing patient-focused cancer magazines present the drug’s benefits differently than side effects and risks, a study by researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston found. “Direct-to-consumer advertising of oncology medications typically focuses on the drugs’ benefits, as would be expected, but it does so in a manner that might lead some cancer patients to not appreciate equally the drug’s potential side effects and risks,” said the study’s lead author Gregory Abel. “Oncology providers should be aware of these advertisement characteristics, as they may influence patients’ perceptions of and requests for these medications.” The researchers reviewed advertisements for oncology drugs that appeared in three cancer patient-focused magazines, CURE, Coping with Cancer and MAMM, in 2005. They found that none of the advertisements included information about costs or contained celebrity or physician endorsements. About two-thirds (67 %) referenced clinical data and 80 % contained images of patients. “We found that appeals to medication safety are infrequent in oncology print direct-to-consumer advertisements, while appeals to medication effectiveness are ubiquitous and often made through the presentation of clinical trial data,” Abel said. “Such appeals to the scientific efficacy of cancer-related medicines, while suitable in the setting of clinical encounters, may not be appropriate when made directly to consumers via language that is difficult to read.”
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