Israel's Skin Cancer Rate Second Highest in the World

Ran Reznick
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Ran Reznick

The skin cancer rate in Israel is among the highest in the world, the Israel Cancer Association reported yesterday. At the end of 2000 there were 3,631 skin cancer patients in Israel and around 200 die every year from the disease.

The Skin Cancer Association held a news conference marking skin cancer awareness week beginning next Sunday. During the week the association and the Health Ministry, Health Maintenance Organizations and hospitals will do free examinations for skin cancer in 300 outlets.

Israel is second after Australia for occurences of malignant melanoma, according to the Health Ministry report covering 1998 to 2000. There are 14.8 cases of malignant melanoma in Israel per 100,000 men and 14.4 cases per 100,000 women. This is less than half the rate in Australia but higher than in North America, double the rate in the European Union and up to 14 times higher than on all other continents.

Dr. Micha Barhana, director of the Health Ministry's cancer registration unit, says the high rate of skin cancer in Israel is because of the large number of people from Europe and North America, whose fair skin is vulnerable to the desert climate here. Risk is increased by the dress fashions that allow more of the body and skin to be exposed to the sun than is customary in neighboring countries.

He said genetics can explain only about 10 percent of skin cancers, and even then, mainly among Ashkenazis. The high cancer rates in the `90s are a result of careless and excessive exposure to the sun in the `70s and `80s. He said the growing awareness of the disease and of ways to avoid it - both by doctors and the public - may reduce the skin cancer rate in Israel from 2010.

Dr. Barhana said 990 new patients were diagnosed in 2002, a similar figure to 1999-2000. From 1990 a clear trend of rising skin cancer rates was noted among men and women here and in many other countries.

The Health Ministry reports the largest group of skin cancer patients among people of European and North American origin (400 new patients in 2000), then among those born in Israel (400 new patients), people of African origin (40 cases), of Asian origin (25 percent), and Arabs (15 cases).

Since exposure to the sun is the main cause of skin cancer, most patients get the disease in the face and back of the neck (56 percent of men who got the disease and 40 percent of women); in the arms and shoulders (17 percent of men and 24 percent of women); and legs (16 percent of men and 27 percent of women).