Cancer as a Commodity


Radio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I’m driving home the other day, and on the radio I hear an ad for cancer treatment and I crank up the volume. I may be a couple years past my treatment for breast cancer, but I’m still alert to any news about cancer rates, diagnosis or treatments. As the cross-stitched sampler at the chemotherapy center said, cancer is a word, not a sentence, but is a very, very powerful word. My ears pick it up even when it’s whispered.

This ad, aired by the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), one of the premier cancer research and treatment centers in the U.S., solidified for me an impression that’s been growing in the back of my mind. That impression was reinforced today when I saw the announcement for the new bald Barbie.

Cancer may be an illness.

But it is also big business.

If you’ve been paying even the slightest attention to the news about health care in the past few years, you’ve surely noticed the increased numbers of ads not just for drugs, but clinics and hospitals. The competition is growing fierce, resulting in turf wars among care centers, and the folks hired to advertise and market these centers no doubt see the glowing dollar signs.

The radio ad boasted that survival rates for patients treated at SCCA “are highest among most cancer programs nationwide.”

When I first heard the ad, I thought – wow! How wonderful for SCCA, the place I’d gone to for a second opinion after my diagnosis. (Although my treatment took place at a local cancer center, my oncologist used the same protocol that is used at SCCA for patients like me.)

But something about that ad didn’t sit right.

It’s great that this center does so well (though if you read the fine print of the press release, you find this caveat: “The data does not compare SCCA to other cancer programs in the Puget Sound region or the Pacific Northwest,” and the data is from the period 1998-2002 – more than 10 years ago).

Most of us who live out here already know SCCA offers excellent care. We didn’t need the advertisers to tell us.

So why ARE they telling us?

Well, according to the American Cancer Society, “about 1,638,910 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2012”  (not including nonin­vasive cancer or basal and squamous cell skin cancers). So you see, there’s a lot of money to be made. Cancer is a commodity. Whoever gets the most patients, wins. That was the underlying message I heard in the radio ad.

If you think I exaggerate the ties between cancer treatment and business, or am being too harsh, take a look at this article relating the development of a cancer drug to the stock prices of the pharmaceutical company that developed it. A savvy investor might just want to park her investments at Roche. The dividends could help her foot the bill for treatment when her time for cancer comes. As I mentioned last time, and one of my readers corroborated, cancer now seems to be a rite of passage, and the agencies and businesses instituted to conquer it are not necessarily interested in ending that rite.

If you win the war on cancer, what happens to all the profits made from the pink ribbons? With the sheer numbers of people who will eventually have their own cancer experience, what organization wouldn’t try to capitalize on the clientele, whether it be with T-shirt sales or survival statistics?


5 Responses to “Cancer as a Commodity”

  1. Cathi Says:

    If cures are found for cancers, grubbers will find another disease from which to make money. Case in point: March of Dimes. It was founded to cure polio. Salk solved that problem. March of Dimes changed its fight to birth defects.

  2. lat Says:

    Welcome to the Age of 2012 where everything and anything can and is becoming Big Business. Nothing is really sacrec anymore. A reality show about every conceiveable angle… except no reality exists. A bunch of fluff for the sake of exploitation and making money. So who do you trust anymore? Where is it that truth lies in today’s world. Not anywhere but within yourself. If it sounds too good to be true… your inner self will tell you there is a catch somewhere! All cannot be what it is sold to be!

    Why can cancer be any different? People hear a cure for any cancer, they will buy it because they want first to be cured. Another conspiracy theory at large?? for the sake of money.

  3. Why I Don’t Race, Run, Walk, Climb, Romp, Stomp or Even Crawl for the Cure « The Popsicle Report Says:

    […] even pool cues. These sponsorships and products, also have their underlying message, much like the radio ad I mentioned in an earlier […]

  4. Kathi Says:

    Wow! A sister ‘Grumbler for the Cure’! I have a blog category devoted to this corporate merchandising relationship. How did we not stumble upon each other in the blogosphere before now?? Myself, I enjoy throwing a little snark at this topic. A few posts to explain the derivation of ‘Grumblers for the Cure:’

    There’s even a blog badge:

    Nice to meet you, Julie. 🙂

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