Research News

Online marketing of personalised cancer tests discusses benefits more than limitations, study shows

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 06 March 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1213
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. 1London

Internet sites marketing personalised cancer tests discuss the benefits more than the limitations of their products, and many promote tests that have not been validated, a study analysing the content of these websites has found.

Researchers analysed the information on 55 websites that marketed personalised cancer medicine, defined as “products or services that could be used to tailor, personalise, or individualise care based on genomic or tumour derived data.”1

The results, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, showed that 85% (47/55) of the websites included information on the benefits of their products or services but that only 27% (15/55) provided data on the limitations. Overall, the websites included more information on the benefits of personalised cancer medicine than on the limitations (P<0.001).

Most of the 32 websites that marketed somatic genetic tests, which analyse tissue (usually cancer) for non-heritable mutations, gave no evidence of clinical utility. They were more likely to market non-standard tests—which an expert panel considered had no established clinical utility—than standard tests (88% v 44%; P=0.04). Only half (56%) included specific test information.

Six of the websites analysed in the study offered chemotherapy sensitivity testing, even though the American Society of Clinical Oncology has found insufficient evidence to recommend this type of test.

The researchers, led by Stacy Gray, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, USA, said, “Given the lack of uniform regulation over internet marketing, disproportionate claims of benefit and promotion of nonstandard technologies, it is essential that clinicians and patients critically evaluate online products.”

The websites included in the study systematically screened the top 30 websites on commonly used search engines related to personalised or genomic cancer care. The researchers also looked at websites identified through a literature review and at exhibitor information from a national oncology conference. “Online marketing may be detrimental if it endorses products of unproven benefit,” they concluded.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1213


View Abstract

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription