Diagnosing Skin Cancer with your Smartphone is NOT a Smart Idea - Page

  • Posted on: Mar 27 2013
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With the ease of technology today we are losing the human connection. Why talk when you can text? Why know where you are going ahead of time when you can just get directions on your phone? Why go to a Dermatologist when smartphone apps tell you if you have skin cancer? This last item is where our reliance on technology is dangerous- even life threatening. A Pew survey published recently found about one-third of adult Americans used online resources, including apps, to diagnose a health problem. Only about 41% of those people said the diagnosis was later confirmed by a medical professional.

Smartphone apps that claim to detect cancer should not replace visits to your Dermatologist. A recent study at the University of Pittsburgh has confirmed suspicions about the risks of using phone apps for medical education and diagnosis when 30 percent of dangerous cases of melanoma were incorrectly identified as being safe. The study measured the performance of four smartphone programs with apps that claim to evaluate skin lesions and detect cancer. The apps work by giving a recommendation after comparing a photo you take of a suspicious lesion against a library of skin cancer images.

According to Dr. Laura Ferris from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, “For the study, researchers used photos of 188 pre-diagnosed lesions – 60 melanomas and 128 benign lesions – to check the accuracy of four Smartphone apps made to look for melanoma in previously-taken images.

Three of those apps, which cost under $5 to own, use algorithms to determine whether a lesion is likely to be cancerous or not. The fourth sends images to a certified dermatologist for evaluation, at a price of $5 per lesion.

Of the three algorithm-based apps, the most accurate still missed 18 of the 60 melanomas, mistakenly classifying them as lower-risk. All but one of the apps classified more than half of the benign, non-cancerous lesions as problematic.”

The apps are marketed as educational, so they are not considered as medical devices and therefore do not require Food and Drug Administration regulation or approval.

It is dangerous for a person to rely on apps as accuracy varies and any delay in diagnosis and treatment increases the risk of metastases. While smartphone apps are not the answer to diagnosing your moles, it is important to watch for changes in your moles and lesions and address any concerns you have with your Dermatologist. He/She will be able to accurately test and diagnose skin cancers.

Skin cancer is the only cancer that can be seen on the surface of the skin. By examining your skin for any changes, you can detect early warning signs of skin cancer. Melanoma is a serious skin cancer, which is curable if detected early. Melanoma grows from pigment cells (melanocytes) in the outer layer of the skin (epidermis). Melanomas usually start as a skin lesion and tend to spread out within the epidermis before moving into the deeper layer of the skin (the dermis). It can occur in adults of any age.  Early detection and removal is extremely important to prevent this type of cancer from spreading to other parts of your body.

Know your body, so you can recognize changes and possible Melanomas. Full body skin examinations- screening skin for benign or cancerous lesions- are essential for optimum health maintenance.  Half of melanomas are first identified by patients themselves. You should perform an annual full body exam to allow early detection of treatment. An important part of prevention is mole tracking with the ABCDE danger signs: A=asymmetry, B=irregular border, C=irregular color, D=increase in diameter, E=evolution or changes in the mole.

Access this body mole map at the American Academy of Dermatology website and schedule an appointment if you find any areas of concern.


Worried it might be Skin Cancer? Visit Dr. Asarch’s Blog about the signs to look for http://ow.ly/blAAo

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