Pharma-backed 'Destination Healthy Skin' RV nears end of 2021 road tour

EMD Serono and Pfizer, Merck, Almirall and Genentech sponsored the tour, along with sunscreen manufacturer EltaMD and ScarAway, made by Perrigo. (The Skin Cancer Foundation)

The Skin Cancer Foundation wanted an excuse-proof way to encourage people to get checked for melanoma and other skin cancers. 

So, in 2017, it launched “Destination Healthy Skin,” an RV-turned-dermatologist-office that would crisscross the country bringing free full-body skin check-ups and sunscreen samples to the masses.

Four years and thousands of miles and free screenings later, the RV—with heavy backing from pharma—will wrap up its 2021 tour this week with a final stop in Philadelphia on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

RELATED: ‘Godmother of Soul’ joins pharma-backed campaign to boost cancer screenings after pandemic dropoff

The 2021 tour was on pace to deliver roughly 1,000 screenings as of last week, Dan Latore, the Skin Cancer Foundation’s executive director, said in an email interview. Local volunteer dermatologists have identified nearly 200 potential skin cancers and precancers.

“The mobility and visibility of the RV challenged people’s instincts to procrastinate,” Latore explained. “It’s here, it’s now and it’s free. How can you say no?”

Pharma companies EMD Serono and Pfizer, Merck, Almirall and Genentech sponsored the tour, along with sunscreen manufacturer EltaMD and ScarAway, made by Perrigo.

“Over the years, many pharmaceutical brands have supported this program and their funding has been instrumental to our success,” said Latore, adding that it helps cover the significant costs of coordinating and promoting the program as well as fueling, maintaining and staffing the RV.

The 38-foot RV set out on Aug. 3 after a three-day stop in New York City and traveled roughly 9,000 miles to 21 cities. Sprawled across the driver’s side in large letters is the foundation’s tough-to-miss message: “What’s That? It could be skin cancer.”

RELATED: ESMO: Merck’s Keytruda tames stage 2 melanoma, reducing cancer recurrence in postsurgery use

The program builds on an earlier effort called Road to Healthy Skin, which ran from 2008 to 2015. But the RV now stays longerat least two daysat each destination, and organizers have beefed up community engagement efforts, tapping local businesses, sports teams and celebrities to help spread the word, Latore said.

The latest tour marked the RV’s comeback after a yearlong pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It dovetailed with the foundation’s early-detection PSA campaign, “The Big See,” which recommends monthly self-exams in addition to yearly checks by a doctor. As the campaign points out, melanoma has a 99% five-year survival rate when it’s caught early. 

Latore said the foundation is already plotting the RV’s 2022 trip. It’s likely to hit the road again next May.