Don’t use an app to diagnose melanoma.

Don’t use an app to diagnose melanoma.

Posted on January 25, 2013

While the smartphone is pretty impressive technology, turns out that melanoma diagnosis apps are still pretty dumb – and inaccurate.

A new study, published in JAMA Dermatology this week found that 3 out of 4 apps incorrectly labelled at least 30% of actual melanoma skin cancers as “unconcerning.”

Four smartphone apps marketed for analyzing skin lesions were tested by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. A photograph of the suspicious skin area is taken and uploaded by the user, and the app is supposed to tell whether it is a potential melanoma or a cause for concern. The study used photos of skin cancers and benign lesions where the identity (cancer or not) was already known, and checked the apps for their diagnostic skills.

The app that seemed to work best was the one that sent the images directly to a board-certified dermatologist for his/her opinion. The lowest sensitivity was in apps that used computer algorithms to try to analyze images. Of the 3 apps that did not involve a physician, even the best one was wrong 30% of the time. The worst performing app only got it right 6.8% of the time!

So, smartphone apps are not a substitute for a real dermatologist – at least, not yet. The concern is, of course, what happens to the person that uses one of these inaccurate apps who actually has a melanoma, but is lulled into a false sense of security because the app said the skin lesion was supposedly “benign”. Currently, there’s very little regulatory oversight for these programs.

Take home lesson: learn the ABCD’s of melanoma. (Asymmetry, Border irregularity,Color that is uneven, Diameter > 1/4 inch) If you have a suspicious mole, go see a dermatologist.



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