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J Clin Oncol. 2009 Sep 1;27(25):4182-7. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2008.20.6599. Epub 2009 Aug 3.

Cancer-related direct-to-consumer advertising: awareness, perceptions, and reported impact among patients undergoing active cancer treatment.

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  • 1Center for Outcomes and Policy Research, Department of Medical Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, 44 Binney St, Smith 271, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



Although cancer-related direct-to-consumer advertising (CR-DTCA) is prevalent, little is known about cancer patients' experiences with this controversial medium of medical communication.


We administered a 41-item, mailed questionnaire to consecutive patients with breast and hematologic malignancies who were undergoing active treatment at our institution. We assessed awareness of CR-DTCA within the prior year, perceptions of CR-DTCA, and CR-DTCA-prompted patient and provider behaviors.


We received 348 completed questionnaires (response rate, 75.0%). Overall, 86.2% reported being aware of CR-DTCA, most frequently from television (77.7%). Awareness did not vary with clinical or sociodemographic factors except that patients were more likely to be aware of CR-DTCA for products specific to their cancer types (P < .0001). A majority of those aware reported that 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 patients in our cohort were highly aware of CR-DTCA. CR-DTCA was found to be accessible and useful; however, it decreased some patients' confidence in their providers' judgment. CR-DTCA prompted a modest amount of patient-provider discussion but infrequent patient-reported changes in therapy.

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