Death rates from melanoma down

Cancer Association credits drop to earlier diagnosis and less exposure to sun; survey shows 55% of Israelis avoid suntanning.

By
May 4, 2011 03:04
3 minute read.
Tanning

Tanning 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

New survey findings from the Israel Cancer Association show a significant decline in death rates among Jews from melanoma skin cancer.

Mortality rates among Arabs have declined less, but melanoma cases among them are much fewer than among Jews because Arabs tend to wear more modest clothing.

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Miri Ziv, the association’s director-general, spoke about the survey results during her annual pre-summer presentation that gears up for Skin Cancer Awareness Week from May 15 to 20.

In its survey of 4,100 adults, the ICA found that nearly 55 percent of Israeli adults said they avoid suntanning, thereby protecting themselves from dangerous ultraviolet rays.

Ziv said it has become common practice, especially among women and elderly men, to stay in the shade in the summer. However, only 39% of people ages 21 to 38 reported making a habit of staying in the shade.

Those who tend to be most cautious stay out of the sun between the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and wear long-sleeved, light clothing and a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors.

Still, only 26% of Jewish respondents and 23% of Arab respondents said they use protective sunscreen regularly, although women apply it much more often than men.

More than a quarter of Jews said they had undergone a skin exam in the past two years, with Arabs being much less likely to do so.

GenoMEL, an international research consortium, found in a comparative survey of 12 countries that 38% of Israelis admitted they had suffered sunburn almost every year before the age of 16, a figure considerably higher than in most other countries. Sun damage that can lead to skin cancer is cumulative, thus the earlier the exposure, the more dangerous.

Although melanoma is diagnosed earlier now, thus increasing chances of recovery and five-year survival rates, Israel still has a way to go, Ziv said.

In 2008, the last time data were collected, 1,330 malignant melanoma patients were diagnosed. Those at highest risk are native-born Israelis and Ashkenazim of European and American origin.

Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews are at lower risk due to their darker skin pigments.

Tel Aviv University professor Esther Azizi, a leading GenoMEL researcher, said even though the sun’s rays are a major source of vitamin D, they often do not raise the vitamin’s level enough. Taking supplements via pills or drops is more effective and safer for the skin. Additionally, wearing proper attire is a necessity when it comes to skin protection.

Eating brocolli, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables, which contain anti-cancer agents, can help protect against skin cancer, experts reported.

Prof. Julia Newton Bishop, international chairman of the GenoMEL consortium in Israel, said that in 2008, 200,000 cases of melanoma had been diagnosed around the world, with some 45,000 dying of it.

During Skin Cancer Awareness Week, the ICA has the cooperation of the four health funds, the Health Ministry and various medical societies to publicize how to avoid skin cancer.

More details are available from the ICA’s Telemeida number at 1-800-559-995.

During the week dermatologists will conduct free skin tests of moles and beauty marks to check for skin cancer.

Experimental drugs such as ipilimumab have shown promise in treating or controlling metastatic melanoma that spreads from the skin to other organs. Other researchers are working on the customization of treatment for each melanoma patient, according to genetic makeup.

Steady use of aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is believed to reduce the risk of melanoma, but they pose other risks, such as stomach ulcers and bleeding. Thus, they should not be taken without consulting a doctor.

The ICA is also encouraging Israelis to sign a petition to the United Nations’s health-related organizations to make the globe a “world without cancer.” The ICA hopes at least 10,000 will sign (in Hebrew) via its website at www.cancer.org.il.

The international organizations are working to reduce the incidence of cancer, including preventible types such as cervical cancer and a type of liver cancer that can be reduced by vaccination.

They also aim to reduce stigmas and ignorance about cancer, and encourage early detection, multidisciplinary care and rehabilitation for patients.


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