Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Smartphone Skin Cancer Apps

Looking back at my first cell phone I never realized that it would become a technology that I rely on so heavily. But smartphones and their millions of applications have changed the way we communicate, track appointments, follow the news, bank, shop, watch movies, listen to music, and check the weather. Now mobile technology is even changing how we approach wellness, fitness, healthcare, and medicine. An estimated 44 million health apps were downloaded in 2011 ranging from simple calorie counters and workout logs to ones that track symptoms and even diagnosis illness. There are now even new skin cancer apps: Skin Scan and LoveMySkin.

I like that these apps raise awareness about the importance of skin cancer screening, however I have strong concerns about anyone using a $5.00 app for real medical decision making. The key to surviving a diagnosis of melanoma is catching it early, and so I cannot recommend any app that might delay a lifesaving medical check-up. Recently I wrote about Melafind, a new imaging technology that looks below the skin’s surface to analyze moles for signs of cancer. It went through years of testing and a thorough FDA approval process. Skin Scan is basically a photo app that can give different readings on the same mole depending on how bright the ambient light is.

If you are concerned about skin cancer and want to use these apps, use them for mole mapping and as a photo archive, but leave the analysis to a trained dermatologist. I do like and recommend apps that have been developed for improving sun-smart behaviors. MyUVAlert by Coppertone is free and provides local UV forecasts and reapplication reminders. It even lets you create profiles for every family member.

There is a strong drive to empower consumers across all levels of healthcare which has led to a surge in medical apps. But with Apple’s recent hire of a Director of Medical Marketing, and the FDA soon to publish its final guidelines on mobile medical applications, health apps should become more medically trustworthy. Until then there is no substitute for a professional medical evaluation.


  1. I completely agree. What is scary about Skin Scan app is that it is diagnosis based on an analysis not approved by the FDA. I recommend Mole Detective which tracks the symptoms my dermatologist recommends me to track at home.

  2. This was done already by a medical company in Australia almost ten years ago. The problem is that it is well known you are going to get limited success with standard images. Even with 5 years of research we never got better than a junior doctor at detecting Melanoma. The concern about this kind of application is that Melanoma can be deadly and that it requires a trained medical professional. Would you risk your life to an application on an iPhone? Has this software been certified by the FDA in America or CE Marked in the EU? Selling medical software without this is illegal.

    It took 5 years of intense research by top mathematicians and world class dermatologists on a 40K device and they couldn't do it reliably. I don't see how this kind of application will fare any better.

    Do the right thing and seek a medical professional.

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