Are Advertisements Offering Too Much False Hope?

You know, I'm just not sure what I think about all of the advertisements that we are constantly bombarded by on television, in magazines, on social media... Everywhere, it seems that drug companies are touting their drugs to consumers.

Prompting a discussion

I can't tell you how many surveys I have taken that want to know if a particular advertisement is going to make me discuss the drug with my oncologist. I always answer "No" because I am fortunate enough that my treatment is working for me. But, if that wasn't the case, would I be swayed by the commercials?

I think I probably would be. Have the pharmaceutical company commercials made you discuss with your doctor the possibility of treatments that he or she hadn't already mentioned?

Are the commercials a double-edged sword? On the one hand, they could help a consumer (patient) be more informed and encourage them to take a greater role in their own health care. I am a big believer in being an active participant in your own care.

Misleading hope for the hopeful

On the other hand, though, are they offering hope where they shouldn't? I am specifically thinking about immunotherapy. I hardly ever watch TV and I have pretty much weaned myself off of Facebook, but I am still very familiar with the giant wall touting the words, "A Chance to Live Longer."

Well, that claim certainly will catch the eyes of any patient diagnosed with cancer. Any cancer, I guess. I knew a girl who had endometrial (uterine) cancer. Even though the ads are directed at lung cancer patients, this woman was absolutely convinced that her doctors and insurance company were withholding proper treatment from her because they would not put her on or pay for immunotherapy treatments.

I kept trying to tell her that immunotherapy is great when it works, but it just is not the cure-all that too many people seem to think it is. (She was convinced she needed immunotherapy when it hadn't even been studied for her particular type of cancer.) I blame the advertisements and all of the hype for offering a lot of hope where there may not be any.

Fitting the advertisement's mold

I don't mean there's no hope at all, but that immunotherapy is not the hope for everyone. Here's what Julie Brahmer, M.D., program leader at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and director of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center on the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center campus has to say, “A small subset of nonsmall cell lung cancer patients appear to respond to nivolumab and have beaten the odds that most patients with this cancer face.”1

When you listen to the ads, you don't get that it is only a small subset of late-stage lung cancer patients who are going to benefit. My oncologist, who is a researcher at heart and spends much of his time in his lab studying immunotherapy, says that of all of the side effects people have from immunotherapy, the worst is disappointment when it either fails to work for them or they aren't a good candidate for it in the first place.

Weighing the pros and cons

I'm on the fence about these ads. I do see some benefit to them. They probably do help open the door to more conversations with oncologists and lead to patients taking a more active role in their own treatment. But, I also think that too many people might want to force the issue with their doctors and insist on a treatment that probably isn't the best for them, to their detriment.

So, what do you think? Are the ads a good thing? Are they dangerous or informative or neither? I'm anxious to hear what you think.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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