Technology is taking an ever increasing role in the management of health care today, and while in many ways the impact is of a positive nature there are some areas of concern that it could also have detrimental effects on patient outcomes. A prime example of where technology may cause harm is the smart phone apps for detecting skin cancer.
Skin cancer apps have actually been around for several years now, there are numerous types of apps out today that can be used to help educate people about their moles and monitor them and other changes in their skin, but they shouldn’t be used to diagnose skin cancer or replace a board certified dermatologist’s expertise.
Every year there are more than 3.5 million cases of non-cancerous melanoma diagnosed, and another 73,000 cases of cancerous melanoma which can be life threatening if not caught in its early stages. A skin cancer app can be very useful in monitoring moles, noting any changes in size, shape or color that you can then report to your doctor or dermatologist, but studies show the app cannot be relied upon as a diagnostic tool.
In 2013 a research study was conducted on the accuracy of skin cancer apps in detecting cancerous moles and the results were not favorable, three out of four cancer apps in the study failed to detect about one in three cancerous moles. Results such as this clearly indicate that the apps show they cannot be relied upon as a diagnostic tool and if utilized for diagnosis would pose a danger of causing great harm to patients.
However, having made it clear that the apps should not be used as a tool for diagnosis it is not to say that they cannot be utilized in such a way as to bring about early diagnosis with your physician or dermatologist. One such app, called the Mole Mapper, is a free iOS app that uses your smart phone’s camera to photographically document your mole(s) chronologically (over time).
The Mole Mapper was designed by a skin cancer biologist from the National Cancer Institute and functions in collaboration with a team of researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University. The app documents your mole(s) over a period of time during which, if you choose to participate in the research, the photographs of your mole(s) are shared with research scientists (anonymously) that are working on developing better diagnostic tools to detect and evaluate moles for skin cancer. This particular app will even send you reminder texts to photograph your moles on a scheduled basis so that you can make note of any suspicious changes and share them with your physician or dermatologist. Taking part in the research does not mean that the scientists will give you any diagnosis of your mole(s) the information and photographs you provide are strictly used for educational purposes only, not diagnosis.
There are several different types of mole tracking apps available, some of which have a price tag or monthly fee attached, but as stated earlier none should be used in place of seeing your doctor or dermatologist for an evaluation and possible biopsy for an accurate diagnosis. Skin cancer can be deadly when left untreated, but with early detection it is one of the most highly curable forms of cancer there is.
And so to this end a skin cancer app can be of high value in that it reminds you to check and photographically inspect your mole(s) for any changes in their appearance that you can then forward to your physician to review for any signs of danger that need to be medically addressed. Use the app wisely and it can be your friend, misuse it and it can have deadly consequences.