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Do Skin Cancer Detection Apps Work?
An app that detects cancer -- but how well does it work? Studies show that most rates of cancer in the US are on the decline, but not skin cancer. With those rising rates, more people are turning to technology for medical advice.
But doctors are warning that about some smart phone apps could actually do more harm than good.
It doesn't have to be summertime for skin cancer to be a concern.
"Mr. McClur, How are you sir?" asked Dr. Adam Mamelak as he greeted a patient at Sanova Dermatology.
McClur is at the dermatologist for a follow up appointment from skin cancer surgery. "He had two skin cancers," explained Dr. Mamelak. "One skin cancer on his ear and one on his scalp."
"And I didn't know it," added McClur.
But instead of seeing a doctor, some people are turning to their smart phone and with the snap of a picture getting diagnosed on their skin cancer risk.
"With insurance the way it is these days, the increase in health care costs people are using these apps to replace going to see a doctor," said Dr. Mamelak.
A dangerous idea, says Dr. Adam Mamelak, because a recent study by the University of Pittsburgh shows these skin cancer-predicting apps get it wrong most of the time.
"These apps are highly variable, one of them only predicted about 7% of the melanoma," said Dr. Mamelak.
The skin-cancer-detecting apps typically work by analyzing a picture sent in by the user. Some apps use real doctors, others a computer, to make a decision on whether or not your skin spot/mole is cancerous.
But in three out of the four apps tested in the University of Pittsburgh study, over 70 percent of the apps classified dangerous melanoma as non-cancerous.
"If a computer program misses a skin cancer, it can be devastating to a person. I mean this could be the difference between life and death," said Dr. Mamelak. "If we can catch it early, we have a chance of saving the patient, but once it spreads the treatments really aren't very good."
"I'm lucky they didn't take my ear off!" said McClur about catching his skin cancer before it spread.
When it comes to skin cancer, Dr. Mamalek says nothing can replace the face-to-face office visit.
"I think we got these ones in time," Dr. Mamalek told McClur. "I don't suspect they'll give him any more trouble."
Doctors say not all apps having to do with skin cancer are bad. For example, some apps help you keep track of your moles and alert you to any changes. Other apps remind you to wear sunscreen or alert you to high UV rays to help avoid sunburns.
Doctors say the problem comes in when the apps are telling you 'yes or no' on potential cancer.
By Karen Kiley