#LCSM Chat Topic 8/11: Direct to Consumer (DTC) Advertising in Lung Cancer–Educating Patients or Oversimplifying to Sell?

LCSM Chat 2016-08-11 graphic

by H. Jack West, MD

For some patients, seeing a TV commercial featuring Opdivo (nivolumab) as a product for lung cancer that highlights its survival benefit was a welcome new development. These commercials have blanketed high profile TV telecasts that have often focused on cars, insurance, and new technology devices. But some people find direct to consumer advertising of medications, especially cancer drugs, to be distasteful and arguably harmful. With the lung cancer community now entering a new era of DTC advertising of treatments that encourage patients and caregivers to “ask your doctor about” a new treatment option, it is time to discuss the pros and cons of this controversial approach: is it education or crass marketing?

Proponents argue that lung cancer is a disease that suffers from stigma and nihilism. Some patients and even many physicians minimize the value of chemotherapy and some other long-established treatments. For these people, awareness of a new strategy with the promise of improving survival and sparing patients expected side effects introduces the possibility for more people to see an oncologist and benefit from treatment. For an even broader range of people, including many not directly touched by lung cancer, just seeing any positive message associated with lung cancer is a welcome step forward for a disease in desperate need of better public relations.

But DTC advertising is also interpreted by many in the health care field as well as the general public as an exploitation of the hope of people who cannot understand the complexities of difficult considerations of the balance between risk and benefit. Only the USA and New Zealand allow DTC advertising of medications, with opponents arguing that these messages magnify benefits without appropriately reflecting the side effects of these treatments. DTC advertising is widely perceived as undermining the authority of physicians and threatening the patient/physician relationship.

With these thoughts in mind, we will reflect on whether DTC advertising of medications, and particularly treatments for lung cancer, serve a valuable need of improving patient education or promote an oversimplified message to incite patients to seek treatments that may not be optimal for them. Are concerns about protecting patients merely paternalism?

Join moderator @JackWestMD for a one hour #LCSM chat on Thursday, August 11th at 8 PM Eastern (5 PM Pacific) as we review these questions together:

  • T1: Does direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) help educate pts about options? Does DTCA improve awareness & destigmatize #LungCancer?
  • T2: Are concerns about DTCA oversimplifying message fair? Are ads balanced presentation of risk/benefit?
  • T3: What effect does DTCA have on pt/physician relationship? If harmful, do benefits of DTCA outweigh harm?
  • T4: Would you welcome DTCA about #LungCancer therapy/interventions as a growing trend, or are other countries right to prohibit it?

Please remember to include #LCSM in ALL your tweets so the other chat participants can see them. You can read a primer on participating in the chat here.  Hope you’ll join us!


New York Times: Cancer-Drug Ads vs. Cancer-Drug Reality

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