Why spend money on awareness? A new study shows the campaigns actually work

Here's some statistical confirmation that awareness campaigns work--and that they can work well. During a three-month push for lung cancer testing in the U.K., primary care doctors referred more than 3,000 extra patients to get tested. About 700 were diagnosed with lung cancer. 

These numbers are courtesy of Cancer Research UK, which dug into the National Health Service's Be Clear on Cancer campaign. That campaign focused on coughing as a potential cancer symptom and urged patients who'd been coughing for at least three weeks to be checked out by their doctors.

Published in the British Journal of Cancer, the study showed not only that patients were tested and diagnosed--with 300 treated with surgery--but that general awareness grew, too. A survey after the 2012 campaign found that 33% of 1,100 participants knew that a three-week cough was a cancer symptom. Before the campaign, only 18% of participants knew that fact.

Obviously, increased testing and diagnosis isn't just good for patients, but good for the drugmakers seeking to treat them. And there's no shortage of awareness campaigns seeking to do just that. But pharma-sponsored efforts are proprietary, with results not often opened for public view. The publicly funded NHS is more open with its info.

"This proves just how successful a simple campaign alerting people to be vigilant about persistent coughing can be," Cancer Research UK chief Harpal Kumar told PMLiVE. "Earlier diagnosis combined with pioneering research means we can make real progress in treating lung cancer--a devastating disease that has killed millions of people."

The study's lead author, a lung cancer expert at University of Hospitals of Leicester, said his team was "surprised to see so many more patients diagnosed with lung cancer" at early stages of the disease. "And then to see that being translated into a significant increase in the number of patients going on to have potentially curative surgery is hugely encouraging."

Among the pharma-sponsored "get tested" campaigns going on right now is AbbVie's ($ABBV) awareness-raising hepatitis C push among professional truck drivers, a group that's 5 times more likely to have the disease. A partnership with the testing company OraSure, the "Truckers Rolling Against Hepatitis C" effort is aimed at getting a high-risk population tested for hep C--and then, of course, treated. OraSure makes an HCV diagnostic, where AbbVie is gearing up to market its three-drug combination treatment for the disease.

- see the PMLiVE story

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