Israel scores success against skin cancer
By Katie Beiter
The Media Line
A three-pronged approach to fighting skin cancer in Israel appears to be showing success. Over the past five years, an aggressive campaign predicated upon awareness, identification and research has apparently been responsible for significantly lower skin cancer rates in the Jewish state.
Under the direction of the Israel Cancer Association, newly created skin care apps such as “DermaCompare” and the development of immunotherapy drugs like Keytruda, the campaign appears to have made noticeable headway in fighting the disease.
“We were third in the world in the incidents and mortality after Australia and New Zealand and it was, of course, because we have a lot of people who come from Europe with light skin,” Miri Ziv, the Director General of the Israel Cancer Association told The Media Line. “In the last five years, Israel dropped to the 20th country with the highest incidents (of skin cancer) and in terms of mortality, we dropped to number 13 for men and number 20 for women.”
According to Ziv, the ICA has worked tirelessly for the past half-decade trying to promote a more sun-smart attitude. “We disseminated our sun-smart stuff in TV programs and in the media. Every summer we launch the early detection project and we encourage people to avoid sun bathing from 10-4.”
Ziv cited the achievement that while melanoma is still rising significantly for most of the world, it has stabilized in Israel.
Of the three prevalent types of skin cancer, the most common is basal cell carcinoma, followed by squamous cell carcinoma. The least common, but deadliest, is melanoma.
“The whole key is early detection,” Dr. Michael Goldenhersch, a dermatologist in Jerusalem told The Media Line. “If you catch (melanoma) early, then it is 100% curable. The whole key to prognosis is the depth of the melanoma itself—the deeper it is, the worse it is.”
“Take, track, treat” is the slogan for Emerald Medical Applications’ newest app, DermaCompare, released just six months ago. The app, which is FDA approved, uses air force image processing and big data analytics to track suspicious moles by asking users to take photos of themselves while clad only their underwear and upload to the images to the app.
“Our enemy is the mole,” Lior Wayn, founder and CEO of DermaCompare told The Media Line. “DermaCompare is based on three layers of suspicion. The first is the idea that we can take the measurement of any mole and we can find something suspicious in the first photo. The second is based on the idea that moles have changed and the common practice is to take photos every six or seven months. The third is using machine learning and artificial intelligence to suggest which moles might be suspicious over time.”
The app, which is free to download everywhere, has a partnership with physicians in countries like Israel and the United States.
“While there are other apps like this available, we are the only app to have two modules—one for the home user and one for the doctor—and we are the only app that is doing auto comparison instead of manual comparison,” Wayn added.
In some cases, though, precautionary measures and early detection aren’t enough.
In 2014, the FDA approved a revolutionary antibody drug to treat metastatic melanoma, Keytruda (Pembrolizumab), which was developed jointly by researchers in the U.S. and Israel. Keytruda is an immunological therapy, which means that it helps the immune system destroy the tumor by blocking pathways between immune checkpoints, which cancers use to dodge the body’s immune system. This type of therapy is often more effective than chemotherapy and has revolutionized cancer treatments.
“For stage 4 melanoma, a few years ago, it was a death sentence of one-year,” Professor Angel Porgador at Ben Gurion University told The Media Line. “However, with the combination of immune checkpoint therapy plus targeted chemotherapy, you [now] have nearly a 40% survival rate among patients.”
Keytruda has been approved for treating metastatic melanoma and advanced non-small cell lung cancer. On August 6, it was approved to treat recurrent or metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.
While the rates of skin cancer have dropped dramatically since the early 2000s, the Israel Cancer Association plans to continue raising awareness through their sun-smart campaign in an effort to lower rates even more.
Katie Beiter is a student journalism intern with The Media Line.