Skin cancer is one of the most common kinds of cancer, and if caught early it’s also one of the most treatable. Unfortunately, however, many people ignore signs of a problem, refusing to head to the dermatologist for a skin cancer screening. Well, now there may be an alternative to the doctor: skin cancer detection apps.
Fitting neatly into a culture that loves fitness wearables and other health trackers, skin cancer detection apps like SkinVision have been publicized as matching dermatologists when it comes to identifying melanoma. Though the technology is still in its early phases, we may be seeing the first signs of a diagnostic revolution that puts more power in the hands of patients.
Preventative Or Diagnostic?
Among the different skin cancer detection apps on the market, some offer more benefits due to their approach. While no one but a doctor can actually identify skin cancer – no one will treat you if your only proof is the analysis from an app – apps like Mole Detective for Android devices use well known danger signs to guide their analysis. Focusing on the same ABCDE method (asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and evolution) used by doctors to assess a mole, this app relies on easy to assess information and can help track a mole that has cancerous potential.
If apps can keep people aware of changes in common skin markers like moles and freckles, that alone can be lifesaving and a good reason to use these apps as a form of prevention. Like Mole Detective, another app, UMSkinCheck also emphasizes active monitoring.
Mainstreaming Medical Knowledge
One reason that skin cancer detection apps are as successful as they are, may be due to their ability to make highly specialized medical knowledge available in a very targeted way. This is how MelApp works, another melanoma detection tool for iPhone. When you take a picture of a skin marker with MelApp, it doesn’t just analyze the image relative to itself (as an ABCDE model does), but actually compares the image to a medical database owned by Johns Hopkins University Medical Center.
Since the average person looking at an unusual freckle can’t just pull up this data on their own, MelApp serves as a middleman for medical knowledge. Though the process is still one of comparison, MelApp has access to a huge amount of information, and more importantly it can help users locate a nearby dermatologist for follow-up, an important admission that any analysis performed by a phone is unofficial at best.
It’s unclear at this point whether or not skin cancer detection apps will do more to help people receive proper treatment or if it will cause them to avoid a proper skin cancer screening by a doctor based on the reassurances of an app – but it’s best to proceed with caution. Giving people more control over their health is a powerful thing, but as we’ve all learned from those who consult Dr. Google, allowing for lay diagnosis is also a minefield of its own.