Apps That Detect Cancer, Do They Work?

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Skin Cancer App

A new study shows that some smartphone apps are able to detect certain types of melanoma a shocking 98.1% of the time. This seems like a fantastic breakthrough for science, but other apps tested were not as successful at 6.1%.

Do average consumers really think that a $5 or less app can mimic what a trained dermatologist is able to do? The answer is yes it appears and researchers would like consumers to take the technology driven analysis with a bit of caution.

This particular study by JAMA Dermatology used photos of 188 pre-diagnosed lesions. 60 melanomas and 128 benign lesions were tested by the four unknown apps. All of the apps were under $5 and they were all listed as educational and for entertainment purposes only.

Skin Cancer Tool

The most accurate algorithm based app correctly identified 42 of the 60 melanomas. The other 18 were identified incorrectly as lower risk. A dermatologist consultation app had better results by incorrectly diagnosing just a single image out of 53 lesions.

Dr. Laura Ferris from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania told Reuters Health that, “If you delay removal or evaluation for your melanoma, it gets deeper, and the chance of it spreading and getting deadly really increases with time.”

They want users to be aware that these apps can assist in our health care system, but they can not replace a doctor. The risk that an app is wrong is too high with the time sensitive nature of cancer. Even if it does not identify cancer it still could be incorrect and a doctor visit is recommended.

Specific names and makers of the apps were not released as that was not the point of this study, but most of these types of apps do provide ample warning upon installation. Mole Detective is a popular app that has the following warning in its description.

“It is important to see a dermatologist yearly and use Mole Detective™ monthly to help identify mole problems. If a mole is showing symptoms of melanoma or changes rapidly, please visit your local doctor for a professional visit. The only certain way to diagnosis a mole is through a biopsy.”

Spotmole is another that has a lengthy disclaimer attached to the description.
“DISCLAIMER: SpotMole is by no means a substitute for clinical diagnostics performed by trained dermatologists. SpotMole is not a medical device and should not be considered as such. Regardless of the output of the program you are urged to seek medical advice if you have doubts with a particular skin spot – mole. SpotMole’s assessment is for educational purpose only. Use SpotMole at your own risk.”

As with any product, many consumers do not read the disclaimer or terms of service. Hopefully the technology improves and we are able to use this technology for a more accurate diagnosis, but for now we are stuck with face to face exams.

Cancer Detecting Phone App

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Smartphone apps might miss melanomas

According to a study by University of Pittsburgh researchers published in JAMA Dermatology, smartphone applications that aim to analyze photographs of skin lesions for the likelihood of cancer gave results that were often inaccurate. Patients who rely on these apps and who receive inaccurate “benign” feedback for the image of a melanoma may put off doctor visits and potentially delay life-saving treatment.

1 COMMENT

  1. Dr. Ferris is right, this type of technology will most certainly help people in rural areas who might not be close to a dermatologist. Mole Detective was created to drive awareness of melanoma and help people track their moles at home so they know if they are showing symptoms of melanoma. Regardless if they are showing symptoms, Mole Detective suggests going to the dermatologist. Mole Detective is a tool that enables people at home do the skin checks that dermatologists ask all their patients to do.

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