Can Smartphone Apps Detect Melanoma?

Smartphones Preparing to Take on Skin Cancer

For thousands of years, humanity’s progress in the fields of medicine and technology moved along at a glacial pace. That lack of speed is now, quite literally, ancient history. Today’s scientists and physicians are making advancements, improving diagnostic instruments and developing new treatments at seemingly the speed of light. No sooner does one breakthrough occur than it’s quickly replaced by an even better, more effective one.

There is perhaps no greater cause for excitement than when new scientific technology is married to some aspect of medical science. And it appears that we may right now be on the cusp of another such achievement. It concerns the all-important early detection of potentially fatal melanoma; the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Can Smartphone Apps Detect Melanoma?

A group of scientists based out of California’s Stanford University have created an extraordinary smartphone app. It employs artificial intelligence that allows a smartphone to “view” uploaded pictures of moles and skin blemishes; and then determine whether they’re skin cancer. In ongoing trials the app has shown itself to be remarkably accurate.

Imagine the positive impact such a device would have for people who live in sparsely populated regions and areas without easy access to a dermatologist. Or those with low incomes and little-to-no medical insurance.

Theoretically, the app would inform its user if skin cancer or melanoma has been detected, and at that point he or she could quickly make a dermatological appointment. If a mole is benign, it saves the person from unnecessary travel costs and medical bills.

However, it’s important to note that the future has not yet arrived. As promising as this technology is, it’s not yet been perfected. In fact, two years ago the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) admonished both Mole Detective and Mel App for false advertising when neither company could offer scientific proof to substantiate their promotional publicity statements.

If you do decide to give this technology a try, an app like SkinVision will allow you to store multiple images of your mole or blemish. This allows users to chronicle any changes that can later be easily produced for their dermatologists. This is of a greater benefit than an occasional, self-visual observation.

Drawbacks

Unfortunately, it’s possible for even the most experienced dermatologist to be tricked into thinking a nodular melanoma is benign after a single visual appraisal. As such, it’s unreasonable to expect that a smartphone app will always provide a correct assessment after analyzing a single image.

Doppler: Not Just for Predicting Weather

Aside from the general anxiety caused by the thought of potentially receiving an unwanted diagnosis, many people put off scheduling skin exams due to an expectation that some element of pain will be involved. First, a routine skin exam is non-invasive. A doctor or dermatologist will look you over and, if necessary, use a special magnification instrument to check any suspicious moles up close.

When melanoma is suspected, the next step is to excise the affected area and have the tissue biopsied by a pathologist. However, Lancaster University scientists have created a new, painless way to test; best described in this direct quote from the cited ScienceDaily.com article:

Researchers have developed a new non-invasive technique which can accurately detect malignant melanoma without a biopsy. Their report shows that a special technique using a laser to detect the subtle differences in blood flow beneath the skin enabled researchers to tell the difference between malignant melanoma and non-cancerous moles.

The laser referenced is called a Doppler Laser.

Of course, nothing is better for our overall skin health than an examination by a fully-qualified dermatologist. But due to the vital importance of a quick skin cancer diagnosis, once ready these highly-convenient tools could turn out to be real life savers.

*Additional source articles: Health.good.is, Consumerist.com, CNN.com, ScienceDaily.com

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