World Cancer Day: Groundbreaking new treatments approved for use in Israel

World Cancer Day is on February 4 and is commemorated in over 116 countries globally.

Cancer illustrative (photo credit: PIXABAY)
Cancer illustrative
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

World Cancer Day, which is being marked on Friday in 116 countries, was first held in 2000 at the World Summit Against Cancer for the New Millennium in Paris.

Since then, the occasion has grown into a global event. Last year 58 governments marked the day in some form, with 800 different events.

The overarching goal of World Cancer Day – an initiative of the Union for International Cancer Control – is to ensure that there will be “major reductions in premature deaths from cancer, and improvements in quality of life and cancer survival rates,” according to its 2013 World Cancer Declaration.

Nine separate goals have been set with a 2025 deadline, including the strengthening of health systems; universal vaccination programs for HPV and HBV, which both cause high cancer rates; the reduction of stigmas, myths and misconceptions surrounding cancer; access to accurate cancer diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and supportive care services, and improved availability of affordable essential medicines and technologies.

There are 28,000 new cancer cases of all types diagnosed every year in Israel, which continues to improve and expand in treatment and technology, having recently approved two groundbreaking treatments, one aimed at leukemia patients and the other at those diagnosed with endometrial cancer.

THE SAMSON Assuta Ashdod University Hospital (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)THE SAMSON Assuta Ashdod University Hospital (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

There are 5,000 Israelis fighting multiple myeloma, a type of leukemia, with 500 new patients diagnosed each year. In patients with this specific form of cancer, the malignant plasma cells multiply uncontrollably.

A new treatment called Belantamab Mafodotin (BLENREP) was approved for use in Israel recently, and is now accessible as a treatment option in hospitals and through public healthcare providers across the country.

The treatment is an immunotherapy-based biological treatment that activates the immune systems against only the malignant cells, thereby evading healthy cells.

It was first approved for use by the FDA in 2020 and later by the European Commission before recently being approved for use in Israel.

“Despite advances in treatment, multiple myeloma remains incurable, and patients continue to cycle through therapies with their prognosis worsening with each relapse,” said Dr. Katja Weisel, deputy director and associate professor of Haematology/Oncology at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany. “The approval of BLENREP, with its novel mechanism of action, represents a new class of treatment that patients can turn to when their cancer stops responding to other standard care options.”

Endometrial cancer is a disease in which malignant cells form in the tissue of the endometrium, the inner lining of the uterus. It is one of the most common forms of cancer to affect the female reproductive organs, and is the sixth-most prevalent cancer among women worldwide. However, multiple treatment options are available, one of which has recently been approved for use in Israel.

JEMPERLI, a treatment based on immunotherapy, is a programmed death receptor-1 blocking antibody that can be used to treat recurrent or advanced endometrial cancer in patients who have progressed, or have failed to see success with other treatments. It is also currently being investigated by the European Commission for the possibility of using it in treating specific forms of ovarian cancer.

Israel marked Cervical Cancer Awareness Week at the end of January. 

A new bill passed its first reading in the Knesset this week, which would allow cancer patients to receive medical benefits in the workplace from the first day of their diagnosis onward.

MK Naama Lazimi (Labor), who brought the bill, said that she had spoken to women who would receive treatment at 2 a.m. in order to keep going to work during the day, because they could not afford to take unpaid leave.

It is these experiences, such as the one that Lazimi brought to the Knesset’s attention, that World Cancer Day seeks to improve and eradicate in their 2022 campaign, “Close the Care Gap.”

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the lack of access to essential health services. “People who seek cancer care encounter obstacles at every turn,” it says. “Income, education, geographical location and discrimination based on ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability and lifestyle are a few of the factors that can negatively affect care.”

However, the organization concluded, “the cancer care gap is not inevitable. Our systems can be reimagined and a person’s situation can be improved, their knowledge about cancer can be increased, and their access to services made easier. Together we can reduce inequity.”