Drugs to fight cancer that were advertised in consumer-based magazines seemed to promote all of the benefits of the drugs in large text. Risks and side effects, however, generally appeared lower on the page and in a smaller, more difficult-to-read text.
"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 drugs' potential side effects and risks," study author Dr. Gregory Abel, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said in a prepared statement. "Oncology providers should be aware of these advertisement characteristics, as they may influence patients' perceptions of and requests for these medications."
Researchers studied ads in 2005 issues of three magazines geared toward patients -- CURE, Coping with Cancer and MAMM. Ads were reviewed for readability using the Flesch Reading Ease measurement guide. The study examined the size and content of the text, placement of text, clinical data, patient testimonials and pictures of patients. Researchers also noted any physician or celebrity endorsements, information on effectiveness, and safety information.
Overall, text relating to benefits of the drug tested the easiest to read and tended to appear in the top third of the ad space. Benefit text was also typically written in a larger size.
Explanation of risks and side effects were typically in a small-size text at the bottom third of the ad space, but the length of the text for both sections was approximately equal. Approximately 80 percent of the ads contained patient images, and 67 percent contained clinical data. Physician or celebrity endorsements were not used in any of the ads.
Results of the study were presented this week at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting, in Atlanta.
"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."