If you haven’t seen the TV ads for Cancer Treatment Centers ofAmerica, then you probably don’t watch TV.

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The cancer treatment group — a network of five hospitals inmajor cities — spent almost 60 percent of all cancer centeradvertising dollars in 2014, according to an analysis of cancer treatment ad dollars bya team of university researchers. Their data was published in TheJournal of the American Medical Association this week.

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CTCA’s $102 million in advertising expenditures outdistanced byfar the next two on the list: MD Anderson Cancer Center ($14million) and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center ($9 million).And while the study noted that 20 centers accounted for 86 percentof the total spend, CTCA emerged as the biggest believer inadvertising’s power to persuade.

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The analysis reveal that CTCA’s ad breakdown focused on anational audience and budgeted plenty for internet advertising — anarea of growth for all cancer center ad campaigns. CTCA spentnearly $59 million to reach a national audience — well over twicewhat it spent in the five metropolitan markets where its centersare located. Of the total, nearly $19 million targeted an internetaudience.

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The national spending reflects CTCA’s focus on prospectivepatients who can afford an expensive treatment programand who are able to travel for that treatment. The ads oftenemphasize that a patient has searched widely for help, oftenlooking for a second opinion, and concluded that CTCA’s expertisein treating cancer is worth traveling for. Images of adultsapproaching a gleaming CTCA facility with buoyed spirits are ahallmark of the ads.

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Interviewed by the medical news service Stat, CTCA’s PeterYesawich said the ad campaign has been a huge success in promotingthe center’s brand and, more important, drawing in new patients.Patient count is projected to be 7,400 next year, compared to 6,000in 2013.

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But the study’s lead author, Laura Vater, told Stat thatpatients and their families should be cautious about selecting a treatmentprovider based largely on such compelling advertisingmaterial as CTCA produces.

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“Cancer centers with the highest spending are not necessarilycenters that provide the highest standards of care,” says LauraVater, a fourth-year medical student at Indiana. “It’s veryimportant for patients to view cancer center advertisements withscrutiny.”

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As Stat reported, CTCA has been criticized for selectingpatients who fit a certain profile: wealthy, early-stage cancerpatients who are more likely to have a positive treatment outcome.Several federal regulators have reviewed its operations and itsclaims of high success rates, and Reuters challenged its successrate claims in a 2013 report.

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But so far, the for-profit, privately held company with thegenerous advertising budget has survived the critics and is winningperhaps the most important battle for its investors: the battle formore patients.

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Dan Cook

Dan Cook is a journalist and communications consultant based in Portland, OR. During his journalism career he has been a reporter and editor for a variety of media companies, including American Lawyer Media, BusinessWeek, Newhouse Newspapers, Knight-Ridder, Time Inc., and Reuters. He specializes in health care and insurance related coverage for BenefitsPRO.