A handful of smartphone apps and devices claim to support early detection and keep you on track with regular self-exams. You can take photos of suspected moles or spots and follow them yourself, or send them to a dermatologist for review. Anyway, these apps can be useful, but they do have limitations, so it's important to follow conventional wisdom (such as) to protect yourself. This is what you need to know about using your smartphone to detect skin cancer.
Know the facts about skin cancer
Every year, doctors diagnose more than 4 million cases of nonmelanoma (including basal and squamous cell) skin cancer in the US, and it is estimated that nearly 200,000 people will have a melanoma diagnosis in 2019.
Basal and squamous cell carcinoma develop on the outer layers of the skin and are more common, though less harmful, than melanoma.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. It forms in the cells responsible for skin pigmentation, called melanocytes. It is an aggressive form of cancer and accounts for nearly 10,000 deaths a year. Even with early detection it can be fatal.
Symptoms of all types of skin cancer include:
- Change in the size or color of a mole or other area on the skin
- A new growth on the skin  Strange skin sensations, such as persistent itching or sensitivity
- Spread of pigment outside the edge of a birthmark
Skin cancer can occur due to various factors, including genetics and exposure to toxic chemicals, but the most obvious connection is that of.
How your phone can help you identify skin cancer
Telemedicine is a growing field and skin care should not be left out: in recent years, a handful of skin cancer detection apps have appeared that allow you to analyze your skin with your smartphone and artificial intelligence algorithms.
Some send photos to a dermatologist, others provide immediate feedback, and others provide helpful reminders about self-checking your skin and scheduling an appointment with a doctor.
Here are a few that you can download on iOS and Android.
Miiskin uses mole mapping to analyze your skin. Dermatologists perform molmaps as part of a clinical skin examination using digital dermoscopy (enlarged digital photography) to capture suspicious lesions that they may not be able to catch with their own eyes.
Because they are so high-definition, dermoscopic photographs offer much more information than normal digital photographs. The developers behind Miiskin wanted to offer consumers a version of this technology, so they built an app that takes enlarged photos of large areas of your skin, such as your entire leg. According to the website, anyone with an iPhone can use ($ 900 with Amazon) with iOS 10 and newer or a phone with Android 4.4 and newer Miiskin.
The app saves your photos separately from your smartphone library and allows you to compare moles over time, which is useful when detecting changes.
Search it: iOS | Android
This app comes from researchers from the medical faculty of the University of Michigan (UM) and allows you to complete a skin cancer self-exam and create and update a history of birthmarks keep growths and lesions.
The app guides you step by step on completing the exam with graphical and written instructions. UMSkinCheck also provides access to informational videos and articles, as well as a melanoma risk calculator.
UMSkinCheck also sends push reminders to encourage people to follow their self-exams and to check the lesions or moles they follow. You can decide how often you want to see those reminders in the app.
Search: iOS | Android
Like Miiskin, MoleScope uses magnified images to help people determine if they should see a dermatologist to have their skin checked.
A product from MetaOptima (a provider of clinical dermatology technology) MoleScope is a device that attaches to your smartphone and sends photos to a dermatologist for an online check.
Although MoleScope will not analyze or diagnose your birthmarks itself, you can use the ABCD guide in the app to monitor suspicious birthmarks: the app helps you document your birthmarks with photos and sends them she to a dermatologist, who can judge them with the ABCD method:
- Asymmetry: the shape of one half does not match the other
- Edge: edges are bumpy, ragged or blurred
- Color: uneven shades of brown, black and brown; strange colors such as red or blue
- Diameter: a change in size larger than 6 mm
Unlike Miiskin, you can only take photos of one mole or small areas with a few moles , instead of large areas such as your entire chest or back.
Search it: iOS | Android
SkinVision claims to help an early detection of melanoma. The app uses in-depth learning to analyze photos of your skin and to assist in the early detection of skin cancer. The photos are processed via a machine-learning algorithm that filters image layers based on simple, complex and more abstract functions and patterns via a technology called convolutional neural network (CNN). SkinVision uses it to check small parts of your skin and come back within a minute with a high or low risk assessment of that area.
SkinVision is supported by a scientific committee of dermatologists, but Dr. Daniel Friedmann, a dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology in Austin, Texas, told CNET that even an app with prominent support from scientists has limitations. "I would not advise patients to avoid these apps, but I would approach their results carefully," Dr. said. Friedmann, "and patients advise that suspicious lesions are best evaluated in the office."
Search it: iOS | Android
Research is promising, but accuracy is not quite there
Of all apps discussed here, SkinVision seems to have completed most of the research.
A 2014 study of an older version of SkinVision reported 81% accuracy in detecting melanoma, which researchers said at the time was "insufficient to accurately detect melanoma."
However, a new 2019 study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology has determined that SkinVision can detect 95% of skin cancer cases. It is encouraging to see that the company continues to work on the accuracy of apps, because early detection of skin cancer is the number one way to achieve successful treatment.
In another study, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh analyzed four smartphone apps that claim to detect skin cancer. We do not know the exact apps because they are only mentioned as applications 1, 2, 3 and 4. Three of the apps used algorithms to provide immediate feedback about the person's skin cancer risk and the fourth app sent the photo & # 39 ; s for a dermatologist.
It is not surprising that the researchers find the fourth app the most accurate. The other three apps were found to incorrectly categorize a large number of skin lesions, with one missing nearly 30% of melanomas and classifying them as low-risk lesions.
A Cochrane review from 2018 from previous research found that AI-based skin cancer detection "has not yet demonstrated sufficient promise in terms of accuracy, and they are associated with a high risk of missing melanomas."
To be honest, much of this research took place a few years ago, and the manufacturers may very well have improved their technology ever since. More recently, in 2017, a team of researchers from Stanford University have announced that their AI is doing just as well as a personal dermatologist in detecting skin cancer – proving that these apps and algorithms are promising.
Potential benefits of skin cancer detection apps
Healthcare professionals have voiced two main arguments with regard to skin cancer detection. The first cause for concern is that people may rely on apps and consumer devices to assess their risk of skin cancer, which can lead to a delayed diagnosis. The second praises these apps for increasing public awareness and encouraging people to take better care of their skin.
Both arguments are valid.
In the SkinVision study, for example, the researchers say: "We see the main potential for smartphone applications in improving patient-doctor communication by raising awareness of the need for skin cancer screening and by providing a basis for interaction . "
In addition, apps such as MoleScope that send images to dermatologists can be the first step to receive a professional exam. After all, all skin cancer biopsies start with a visual examination. However, do not use a home app or device to replace professional medical care for any condition.
Most skin cancer app developers know this and include a disclaimer on their websites that their app is not a substitute for professional healthcare.
The importance of annual examinations
The simplest and most effective way to detect skin cancer is to check your skin yourself and go to a dermatologist regularly for a check-up.
Experts disagree on which groups of people should receive annual exams: some say you only need screening if you have suspicious birthmarks or risk factors for melanoma; others say that everyone should get an annual skin check.
A few factors increase your risk of skin cancer and if you have one of these, you would benefit from an annual check:
- Light skin, light eyes and blond or red hair
- Skin that burns or freckles easily
- A family history of every type of skin cancer
- History of tanning use
- History of severe sunburn
- Unusual birthmarks or more than 50 moles on your body
For now, even though these apps may be useful in some ways It is best to ask the professional opinion of a dermatologist or doctor if you notice suspicious birthmarks or other skin cancer warning signs.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified health care professional for any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.