Cancer Test Ads Raise Worrying Questions

12 September 2007

SALT LAKE CITY: US health professionals have expressed concern at a pharmaceutical company's direct-to-consumer TV advertising campaign for a breast-cancer gene test costing up to $3,000 (€2k; £1.5k).

Myriad Genetic Laboratories says its commercials "represent the highest quality of information". In addition, declares company president Gregory Critchfield: "The test is designed to save lives by raising public awareness."

But some genetics experts are worried the ads could increase fear among women at low risk from the disease and persuade them to have unnecessary and expensive tests.

Says Alan Guttmacher, deputy director of the National Human Genome Research Institute: "Marketing has the capacity to raise public awareness - a good thing," but he adds that with this particular cancer gene "people can get uncertain test results. What do you do with that information?"

In addition, some genetic counselors believe the Myriad ads oversimplify the benefits of gene tests, while family doctors have neither the time nor training to prepare patients for the investigations and their results.

The ad campaign, which will also appear in the press and on posters in clinics and spas, has come under the scrutiny of the Connecticut attorney general.

Says Richard Blumenthal: "We are doing an investigation to determine whether Myriad is fairly and accurately representing claims for this test."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff