Globally the prevalence of melanoma – the most dangerous kind of skin cancer – continues to rise. But thanks to two decades of information campaigns by the Israel Cancer Association (ICA) – which held its annual press conference on skin cancer and sun protection on Tuesday – and the health funds, the prevalence and mortality rates in the country are declining.

Israeli women are considerably more aware of the dangers of sun exposure and of melanoma than their male counterparts, the ICA reported.

Since 1992, the rate of invasive melanoma that goes beyond the skin to other organs has gone down 30 percent in Jewish women, while it remains stable among Jewish men.

In addition, melanoma remains relatively rare in the Arab population – among both men and women – due to more modest clothing, a tendency to stay out of the sun at peak hours, less sunbathing and certain genetic advantages.

ICA director-general Miri Ziv said at the press conference that melanoma is diagnosed earlier in both Israeli men and women, thus reducing the death rate from this type of cancer, which hits the young and old alike.

According to Dr. Lital Keinan- Boker, head of the Health Ministry’s Center for Disease Control, 1,293 people were diagnosed with melanoma in 2009 – 862 of them with the type that has penetrated beyond the skin, and the rest with tumors on the skin alone.

Skin cancer rates in Australia, where the protective ozone layer has holes, as well as in the US, Canada, Scandinavia and other European countries, remain high and rising.

Native Israelis are generally at higher risk – both women (11.9 per 100,000 people) and men (16.2). Israelis of European and American origin are also more likely to develop melanoma than women born in Asia (2.1 per 100,000) and Africa (2.7), largely because the latter groups’ darker skin is protective.

The lifetime risk for melanoma is one per 36 Jewish men and one per 45 Jewish women. Among Israeli men, survival over five years after diagnosis with penetrating melanoma has risen from 83% in the 1990s to 86.5% in 2003- 2008. Among women, the survival rate increased from 86% to 89% for the same period.

Nevertheless, treatment can be disfiguring, painful and timeconsuming, and can include side effects.

Health Ministry Director- General Prof. Ronni Gamzu has been pressing the public health funds to sell sun-protection creams more cheaply so as to encourage members to use them more frequently. Prices have gone down in the health funds’ pharmacies, and even in private pharmacies, but costs are still prohibitive for lower socioeconomic groups.

The ICA recommends staying out of the sun during the peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., but those who do take the risk should ideally use SPF 30 sunscreen for more protection if they don’t apply it thickly, and SPF 15 if they apply it thickly and frequently, especially when bathing or perspiring.

Nonetheless, no sunscreen offers full protection. The Health Ministry recently required manufacturers and importers to give stronger warnings on their products.

According to a public opinion survey, adults are more aware than before that sun exposure ages and wrinkles the skin, in addition to triggering skin cancer. More people – teenagers and adults – think that a suntan is not necessarily attractive.

Nevertheless, 66% of teenagers still go to the beach during the high-risk hours, and 49% suffered from sunburn in the past year.

US research has shown that two new experimental biological medications for melanoma have improved results in fighting the tumors and cause fewer serious side effects.

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