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Beware of Skin Cancer Detection Apps

Back in July, I wrote a post about two skin cancer detection apps. For anyone worried about getting skin cancer or wanting to monitor moles or skin lesions, these types of apps seem very helpful. However, BBC News recently warned people about relying on these apps, and that the use may actually delay skin cancer diagnosis.

Four popular apps that supposedly can help someone determine if a mole is cancerous or not were reviewed by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh. In the test, 188 pictures of skin cancer and other skin conditions were compared to the app. Almost one-third of the time, three of the four apps determined a cancerous lesion to be not harmful. The fourth app misdiagnosed 1 out of every 58 moles, largely because photos submitted to the app were reviewed by a skin specialist.

One of the researchers for the study was Professor Laura Ferris. She warned about the danger of having apps replace actual medical advice.

It is important that users don’t allow their apps to take the place of medical advice and physician diagnosis. If they see a concerning lesion but the smartphone app incorrectly judges it to be benign, they may not follow up with a physician.

After Wednesday’s post about the study that showed 35 percent of Americans consulting the Internet about health problems, reading this article worried me. As I mentioned, of the 35 percent, 38 percent felt they could treat the problem at home. It makes me wonder how many of that 38 percent should be going to the doctor, even if they feel confident in their self-diagnosis?

I don’t think that these skin cancer apps are the only ones that consumers need to be careful about. Although mHealth apps are very helpful (for the most part), I think it’s important for consumers to realize that mHealth apps aren’t meant to replace doctors (even though it does seem like some could!, but to act as a complement. Especially with something as serious as skin cancer — I don’t think I’d want to be diagnosing myself.

January 22, 2013 I Written By

Katie Clark is originally from Colorado and currently lives in Utah with her husband and son. She writes primarily for Smart Phone Health Care, but contributes to several Health Care Scene blogs, including EMR Thoughts, EMR and EHR, and EMR and HIPAA. She enjoys learning about Health IT and mHealth, and finding ways to improve her own health along the way.

App Helps Potential Skin Cancer Victims Track Moles

The other day, I read an article that stated 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in their life. That is a very scary statistic. So when I came across an article about a free skin cancer screening app that was recently released by the University of Michigan Health System, I was intrigued.

Basically, this app is helps people monitor moles and other skin lesions that could potentially turn into skin cancer. The user takes a picture of worrisome moles, it stores the photos and allows you to compare any changes over time. This isn’t the first app of its kind, but one difference is that it sends reminders to the user to monitor their moles on a regular basis. I think that would be pretty handy, as I think I would forget.

One part of this app that I liked is “risk factor calculator”. It asks a few questions, such as region, sex, and a few other things, and determines how many people with those demographics will get skin cancer. For me, it indicated that .55 people out of 1000 with my similar features would get skin cancer in their lifetime.

This app has the user do a full-body survey, and upon completion, a total of 23 photos and 7 poses are taken. The creators of the app feel like this app, if done on a regular basis, would be helpful to take to doctor’s appointments concerning possible skin cancer. In the future, the creators hope to connect doctors to the app that could examine pictures taken. Here are a few screen shots from the app.

It seems to be fairly easy to navigate and make where lesions are. I like how on the front screen (last screenshot here), it tells you when you need to do your next self exam and indicates how many lesions are being tracked. The app also has an “info” section, that gives tips on how to stay safe in the sun.

Another app that is available for skin cancer is called “Skin Scan” for 4.99 through the iPhone. The app takes the pictures of moles and lesions and gives them a rating on how likely that mole is to be a part of skin cancer. It apparently predicts accurately about 70 percent of the time. Having technology determine this, especially when there is a 30 percent chance it is wrong, is kind of scary. I wouldn’t want to be the person who was told by the app that they likely didn’t have melanoma, only to find out later that I did. I haven’t seen the app, but I would hope that there is a warning stating that the results can’t replace seeing an actual doctor or dermatologist.

Overall, I like the idea of this app. Awhile back, my husband had some moles that could have been worrisome, so we monitored them for awhile. However, we had a hard time remembering what the moles looked like previously, therefore not being able to determine if there had been changes. While we could have taken pictures, it would be nice just to have a place that automatically stores them to a specific location.

UMSkinCheck is available for the iPhone, for free, and can be downloaded here. It has an almost 5 star rating, compared to the 2 star rating that Skin Scan has.

July 19, 2012 I Written By

Katie Clark is originally from Colorado and currently lives in Utah with her husband and son. She writes primarily for Smart Phone Health Care, but contributes to several Health Care Scene blogs, including EMR Thoughts, EMR and EHR, and EMR and HIPAA. She enjoys learning about Health IT and mHealth, and finding ways to improve her own health along the way.