Beware of Skin Cancer Detection Apps

Back in July, I wrote a post about two skin cancer detection apps. For anyone worried about getting skin cancer or wanting to monitor moles or skin lesions, these types of apps seem very helpful. However, BBC News recently warned people about relying on these apps, and that the use may actually delay skin cancer diagnosis.

Four popular apps that supposedly can help someone determine if a mole is cancerous or not were reviewed by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh. In the test, 188 pictures of skin cancer and other skin conditions were compared to the app. Almost one-third of the time, three of the four apps determined a cancerous lesion to be not harmful. The fourth app misdiagnosed 1 out of every 58 moles, largely because photos submitted to the app were reviewed by a skin specialist.

One of the researchers for the study was Professor Laura Ferris. She warned about the danger of having apps replace actual medical advice.

It is important that users don’t allow their apps to take the place of medical advice and physician diagnosis. If they see a concerning lesion but the smartphone app incorrectly judges it to be benign, they may not follow up with a physician.

After Wednesday’s post about the study that showed 35 percent of Americans consulting the Internet about health problems, reading this article worried me. As I mentioned, of the 35 percent, 38 percent felt they could treat the problem at home. It makes me wonder how many of that 38 percent should be going to the doctor, even if they feel confident in their self-diagnosis?

I don’t think that these skin cancer apps are the only ones that consumers need to be careful about. Although mHealth apps are very helpful (for the most part), I think it’s important for consumers to realize that mHealth apps aren’t meant to replace doctors (even though it does seem like some could!, but to act as a complement. Especially with something as serious as skin cancer — I don’t think I’d want to be diagnosing myself.

About the author

Katie Clark

Katie Clark

Katie Clark is originally from Colorado and currently lives in Utah with her husband and son. She writes primarily for Smart Phone Health Care, but contributes to several Health Care Scene blogs, including EMR Thoughts, EMR and EHR, and EMR and HIPAA. She enjoys learning about Health IT and mHealth, and finding ways to improve her own health along the way.