The Truth In Advertising organization, or TINA, has filed a complaint against Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
A yearlong investigation by ad watchdog TINA into the marketing of the top 50 cancer centers around the country that spend the most on advertising has concluded that the vast majority – 90 percent – are deceptively promoting atypical patient testimonials.
TINA.org catalogued more than 700 testimonials featuring cancer patients with a less than 50 percent five-year survival rate that have been 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.
In each of the 700-plus instances, the cancer center failed to clearly and conspicuously disclose what is typical for such patients.
At the top of the ad spenders list is Cancer Treatment Centers of America, which has a hospital in Newnan. CTCA money accounted for nearly half of the more than $140 million spent by the top 50 on advertising in 2017.
CTCA entered into a consent order with the Federal Trade Commission in 1996 that prohibited the hospital chain from, among other things, using testimonials that misrepresent the typical experience of its patients.
After documenting more than 130 atypical CTCA testimonials that were in circulation in 2018, TINA.org has filed a complaint with the FTC against CTCA and put 42 other cancer centers nationwide on notice that they are engaging in deceptive marketing practices.
The other centers include prominent U.S. hospitals such as MD Anderson, Memorial Sloan Kettering, Dana Farber and Moffitt Cancer Center.
“Cancer patients and their families facing devastating odds of survival have a right to know the truth. To sway this uniquely susceptible population’s decisions as to where they should seek treatment by exploiting false hope is simply not acceptable,” said TINA.org Executive Director Bonnie Patten.
Studies show that consumers, in general, put more trust in the motives of medical institutions than they do other types of marketers.
CTCA issues a statement in response to TINA’s report:
“We encourage cancer patients and their loved ones to make the most informed decisions about how and where they seek care. Advertising represents just one way in which we inform and educate patients nationwide to help them understand their disease, the latest diagnostic tools and treatment options available and our integrated approach to the delivery of cancer care.”
The CTCA statement also asserted that all of the patients featured in their advertising were treated at a CTCA facility and “volunteered to share their stories in their own words without any compensation in the interest of helping others who receive a similar diagnosis.”
All of CTCA’s advertising “undergoes meticulous review prior to publication,” according to the hospital statement. “We remain committed to helping patients and their families make informed treatment decisions that meet their individual clinical needs and preferences.”