US research highlights dangers of skin cancer detector apps

Mole removalAn American University research team has uncovered the unreliability of smartphone apps that claim to detect cancerous skin lesions.

The team of scientists from The University of Pittsburgh tested 188 images on 4 different apps, some of which had since been diagnosed as cancerous and the others were innocuous skin conditions.

Of the 3 apps that were tested, worryingly almost a third of the cancerous images were judged to be non-problematic. These 3 apps relied on technology rather than a medical professional to reach their conclusion.

Only 1 of the 4 apps sent the images to a qualified specialist to look at and diagnose the lesion. This app proved to be the most accurate, with only 1 out of 53 cancerous images being incorrectly diagnosed. It was also the most expensive with a charge of $5 per image.

What the study reveals is the danger of relying on technology over proper medical attention. The lead researcher, Prof Laura Ferris, voiced her concerns over the implications of the findings:

“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.”

This concern was reinforced here in the UK, by Deborah Mason at The British Association of Dermatologists. She said:

“(Such) mole-check apps on the market…that purport to offer diagnosis should be treated with caution.

“A diagnosis can only be made by a medical professional and anyone with a suspicious mole should speak to their GP or dermatologist about it.”

The apps were unnamed in the publication of the study but were deemed to be the most popular downloads.

If you do have a mole or mark on your skin that you are concerned about it is vital to have this checked by a qualified skin specialist – it’s also possible to have benign moles removed as pre-emptive action.