skin cancer – there’s an app for that?

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, with survival rates of 15% when in stage 4. With alerts that melanoma diagnoses are on the rise, more people are becoming more aware of protection and self-examination. Dermatologists have recommended an easy way for patients to remember what to look for at home with the acronym ABCDE:

  • A – Asymmetry: does the mole have an irregular shape?
  • B – Border: is the border of the mole ragged, blurred or uneven?
  • C – Color: does the mole have more than one color (i.e. a darker spot in the middle of lighter pigment)?
  • D – Diameter: is the mole bigger than 6mm?
  • E – Evolution: has the mole changed in size, shape or color?

Getting a full body screening of your skin at least once a year by a dermatologist is also highly recommended. However, in this busy world it is hard to find time to add another appointment to our schedules. One might even ask the ever popular question, “Is there an app for that?”

Of course there is.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

In 2012, the University of Michigan developed UMSkinCheck. This application allows users to create a photographic baseline of their skin and take photos of “suspicious” moles or other lesions. The app helps to self-examine through a step-by-step process. It analyzes the mole using the ABCDE acronym and will then tell you if you have a low or high risk mole. It will also remind you in three months or more to retake a picture so it can compare any changes. UMSkinCheck is now just one of many apps that claim to be able to detect skin cancer.

The medical community is very concerned about this. For one, there is no current regulation through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for so-called “medical apps.”

Also, in the January 2013 issue of JAMA Dermatology, a study was done to determine the accuracy rates of available skin cancer apps. The results came back as follows:

“The performance of smartphone applications in assessing melanoma risk is highly variable, and 3 of 4 smartphone applications incorrectly classified 30% or more of melanomas as unconcerning. Reliance on these applications, which are not subject to regulatory oversight, in lieu of medical consultation can delay the diagnosis of melanoma and harm users.”

To think that people are relying on this type of app to determine whether or not they have melanoma is frightening. Technology may be great for some things, but diagnosing skin cancer is definitely not one of them.

Have you ever used one of these apps? Did you find them helpful or harmful? Please comment below or on the PCA SKIN Facebook page.


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