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Phone Apps Helping To Detect Early Skin Cancer

Are popular phone apps used to detect skin cancer effective?

Nurses Apps Article   posted

Has 27 years experience. Specializes in Clinical Leadership, Staff Development, Education.

Smartphone apps, created to help users detect early signs of skin cancer, offer perks from informative articles to teledermatology.  Read on to learn more about these apps and what research has shown about their accuracy.

Phone Apps Helping To Detect Early Skin Cancer
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The first day of Summer 2020 is just around the corner and many of us are just itching to spend time outdoors. Sunscreen and protecting our skin from the sun’s harmful effects is fast becoming a health priority. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70, with 2 deaths from skin cancer occurring every hour.

If detected early, the 5-year survival rate for skin cancer is 99%. Learning what to look for empowers you to detect skin changes early when it is easiest to cure.

Popular Apps

Smartphone apps have been created over the past few years to help with monitoring moles and lesions for early detection of skin cancer at home. Let’s take a look at several popular apps:

UMSkinCheck

This free app, developed by The University of Michigan, guides users through a full home skin check. Features include:

  • Walks user through the steps of a skin cancer self-exam, including completion and storage of a full body photographic survey
  • Tracks skin lesions and moles for changes over time
  • Provides reminders and notifications to perform self-exams routinely
  • Stores baseline photos that can be used for comparison during follow-up self-exams
  • Provides videos and literature on healthy skin, cancer prevention and a skin cancer risk calculator
  • Locates skin specialists in your geographical area

Mole Mapper

This free app was originally developed by a cancer biologist to help his wife, who is high risk for melanoma. You can watch his video story here:

The Oregon Health & Science University funded and further developed this app as part of the fight against skin cancer.

  • Allows users to take photos of any moles on their body
  • Documents measurements of moles or other skin lesions to track for changes over time
  • Maps the moles on your body in smaller “skin zones” to make the app user friendly
  • Provides monthly reminders for self-exams

Miiskin

This app, endorsed by the Skin Health Alliance, offers free basic features and a 30-day free trial for those wanting premium features. Both features photograph and document measurements of moles and skin lesions for tracking over time.

Free basic features

  • Keeps track of 3 moles or marks
  • Provides a side-by-side comparison
  • Sets reminders for recheck

Paid premium features

  • Free 30-day trial
  • Tracks unlimited number of existing moles or marks
  • Wide area photos for detecting new moles
  • Side-by-side comparison on tablets and computers
  • Automatic skin mapping
  • Photos protected with PIN

MoleScope

This app uses teledermatology and requires a smartphone attachment that provides a detailed view of your skin through magnification and special lighting. You can track and monitor moles and skin marks over time for changes. You can also connect a specialist from your own home and share high-quality images from your dermoscopy for assessment or evaluation.

The dermoscopy attachment for your phone costs $299.00.

Features also include

  • Management of mole and skin images
  • 3D body map for tracking over time
  • Educational self-guide check
  • Scheduling and reminders for self-checks

Dermatology A to Z

Available from Google App Store, this evidence-based app, from the American Academy of Dermatologists, is free for iPhones and ipads through the apple app store. It is designed to provide consumers with information about skin health and conditions.

Features include

  • Provides peak time UV index based on your phone’s GPS
  • Latest updates on medical and cosmetic skin treatments
  • Provides links to dermatologists in your area

How Effective?

We all can benefit from reminders to regularly check our skin and have photographs to help track changes. While the technology is promising, there is limited research to support smartphone apps to accurately detect skin cancers. Researchers recently conducted a systematic review of nine studies that examined the accuracy of apps used to assess risk of skin cancer in suspicious skin lesions. The results, published in the British Medical Journal, showed smartphone apps shouldn’t be relied on to detect all cases of skin cancers. These apps are also not regulated and monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Association like other medical devices.

Use With Caution

Many skin specialists and dermatologists raise concerns that apps will take the place of a trip to the doctor. Or, app inaccuracy could lead to misdiagnosis or late detection of skin cancers. Bottom line, don’t replace a trained physician with a skin assessment app.

Tips for Choosing An App

If you want to take advantage of the reminders and other benefits of skin apps, it is important to:

  • Know who developed the app and are they an expert on skin health
  • Avoid apps that claim to make an accurate diagnosis without a physician’s involvement.
  • Choose apps with information that is backed by experts, such as board-certified dermatologists.

Tell Us What You Think

What are the benefits and risks you see in apps for skin cancer detection?

J. Adderton has been a nurse for over 25 years and specializes in education, leadership and project management. Currently, she is enjoying bedside nursing in rehabilitation.

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