Apps Detect Skin Cancer; Or Do They?

First Posted: Jan 18, 2013 12:11 PM EST

There's an app for that- even when it comes to detecting skin cancer. But can an app really replace a visit to your dermatologist? A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center suggests otherwise.

The study used four unidentified apps to examine the pictures of 188 moles, including 60 melanomas. Their findings were worrisome. Three of the apps, priced at $5 or less, used algorithms to analyze the moles and only made the correct diagnosis 70 percent of the time or less. The fourth app, which sent pictures of the moles to certified dermatologists at the price of $5 per picture, was right 98.1 percent of the time.

Dermatologists, according to previous studies, usually make a correct diagnosis 90 percent of the time. Since three of the four apps only were able to identify cancerous moles 70 percent of the time or less, it shows that there's no replacement for a visit to the doctor's office. Even if the app does make a correct diagnosis, that doesn't help the user find a place to get a biopsy or deal with the hurdles of insurance.

That isn't to say that apps aren't useful tools. There are certain apps that can teach the user about melanomas and remind the user to do regular skin checks; it's a beneficial piece of technology that can make smartphone users more aware of their health. For now, though, the best option is to go see your doctor. It turns out that in the case of detecting skin cancer, there isn't an app for that.

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