Smartphones can be very smart. And while health related apps offer a wonderful but dizzying array of ways to help your health, can they actually detect Melanoma, the most deadly skin cancer? Stay tuned!
There are more than 13,000 health care apps marketed to consumers in the largest online application store alone. In regards to Melanoma, many apps offer educational information about melanoma and skin self-examination and attempt to aid the user in tracking changes of skin lesions. These apps are great! But there are also some that go the extra step and actually "diagnose" legions. Do you think they work? What's your gut reaction?
If you've been watching DermTV, then you know what my gut would say, but more importantly, in a recent, very well designed medical study, the results were scary.
To set the stage, four apps were tested. Three of the four apps evaluated did not involve a physician at any point in the evaluation but instead relied on an automated algorithm for analysis. In other words, a computer compared smartphone pictures to a database of biopsy proven melanomas to determine if the lesion was ok or a Melanoma.
As you might expect, these apps had appallingly low sensitivities in detecting melanoma, ranging from 7 to 70%. That means that the app with 7% sensitivity missed 93% of the melanomas and called them benign! Even the apps with 70% missed 30% of the melanomas. How would you feel about being in the 30% because of an app?!
Sure, there are the usual disclaimers of “for educational purposes only, not for diagnosis” up the kazoo, but the reality is people believe what they want to believe, which is that their spots are OK... not cancer.
Now why is this so dangerous? Because if the app is wrong - which they clearly often are - and you're lulled into a false sense of security about your spot, it may result in delayed diagnosis of your Melanoma, which very sadly can be fatal. On the other hand, most melanomas when discovered early are 100% curable, just like Brandon’s in the DermTV espisode showing the surgical excision of his.
So don't rely on apps and never delay diagnosis. Make sure to have an annual skin cancer exam, and if you're concerned about a spot, see your dermatologist. It very well may save your life.