AstraZeneca 'body checks' cancer in NHL-partnered screening push

AstraZeneca is working with the NHL to encourage people to “Get Body Checked Against Cancer.” The campaign is designed to encourage sports fans to ask their doctors about available cancer screenings and address low awareness of asymptomatic detection recommendations.

In November, AstraZeneca partnered with the NHL and its players association to encourage people to gauge risk factors, arrange screenings, make donations and educate loved ones—a set of actions that spell out GAME. The idea was to empower fans to take control of their GAME. AstraZeneca also vowed to donate $5,000 to the Hockey Fights Cancer fund whenever a player scores three goals in a single match.

Now, the drugmaker has increased its work on the screenings aspect of the GAME acronym. The latest part of the AstraZeneca-NHL collaboration uses the hockey technique “body checking,” in which a player uses their upper body to knock an opponent off the puck, as a play on words to drive cancer screening.

The “Get Body Checked” website uses hockey imagery to encourage people to ask their doctors about cancer screenings, which AstraZeneca calls “the ultimate defense against cancer off the ice.” The website links out to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention page that lists recommended screening tests. 

AstraZeneca is launching the campaign after surveying 4,606 U.S. adults. The poll found low awareness of cancer screening, with 75% of respondents believing there is no screening recommendation for lung cancer. Awareness of other recommendations was better but still low. More than half of people said they don’t think a breast cancer screening recommendation exists. 

A who’s who of leading drugmakers are working to raise awareness of cancer screening. Pfizer recently agreed to give the American Cancer Society (ACS) $15 million over three years to support its push to connect people to no- and low-cost screening opportunities. And last year Merck, Roche and Regeneron backed an ACS lung cancer screening campaign. 

The AstraZeneca survey shows the scale of the task facing such initiatives, while also shedding light on other misperceptions about cancer treatment and management. Two-thirds of the general population said the goal of treatment is always to cure cancer. The figure is a few percentage points higher among cancer patients. Half of respondents said oncologists are the sole doctor responsible for cancer patients. 

AstraZeneca’s work to boost screening—which could drive more patients to its medicines—and correct misperceptions follows a good year for its cancer business. Oncology sales climbed (PDF) 21% last year, fueled by a 50% jump in revenue from the checkpoint inhibitor Imfinzi and growth of other products.