In the past five years, Israel went from number three to 20 on a macabre list of countries with the highest incidents and deaths caused by skin cancer. In terms of mortality, the country dropped to number 13 for men and number 20 for women on the same top. These medical successes were based on a strategy which incorporated an aggressive campaign of awareness, identification of skin cancer and last, but not least, research.
The campaign was started almost five years ago, and it involved, among other things, the use of mundane technologies like smartphone apps and the development of breakthrough immunotherapy drugs like Keytruda.
The research has been spearheaded by the Israel Cancer Association and awareness was improved with basic media promotion.
“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,” said Miri Ziv, the Director General of the Israel Cancer Association.
Statistics say the most common types of skin cancer are, in order fo their prevalence, basal cell carcinoma, followed by squamous cell carcinoma. The least common, but deadliest, is melanoma.
“For stage 4 melanoma, a few years ago, it was a death sentence of one-year. However, with the combination of immune checkpoint therapy plus targeted chemotherapy, you have nearly a 40% survival rate among patients,” concluded Professor Angel Porgador at Ben Gurion University.
The whole key to an improved survival rate has always been early detection. “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,” said Dr. Michael Goldenhersch, a dermatologist in Jerusalem.
Modern technology came into play with the development of DermaCompare, an app released by Emerald Medical Applications. The app used imaging (that is, photos taken by the users themselves and then uploaded) and big data analytics to track and single out suspicious moles. The whole technology behind relies on artificial intelligence to suggest which moles might become dangerous over time.
“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,” said Lior Wayn, founder and CEO of DermaCompare.
The third approach are the drugs that fight skin cancer. Two years ago, a new antibody drug called Keytruda was approved by the Federal Drug Agency in the U.S. The drug treats metastatic melanoma and was developed jointly by researchers in the US and Israel. According to them, Keytruda helps the immune system destroy the tumor itself, a therapy often ore effective than chemotherapy.
While recent numbers showed a drastic decrease of skin cancer cases in Israel, the Israel Cancer Association will continue its strategic awareness program in an effort to reduce rates even more.