Rumor: Smartphone apps can detect skin cancer

Popular phone applications are valuable in skin cancer diagnostics



In recent years, Smartphone apps have been hailed by many online tech and health sites as a valuable tool in detecting skin cancer. Now, a new study, published online in JAMA Dermatology, suggests that phone applications that use photos and mathematical formulas to determine whether or not a skin lesion is cancerous are often inaccurate, according to Reuters, Fox News, NPR News, and other news media.

“It seems so appealing,” Laura Ferris, a dermatologist and co-author of the study, told NPR. “Unfortunately, our data suggest that maybe these apps aren't quite there.”

Researchers said three out of four applications tested in the study misclassified at least 30 percent of melanomas as “unconcerning,” Fox News reports.

The fourth application, however, which sends images directly to board-certified dermatologists for analysis, proved accurate 98 percent of the time.

Apps unregulated for now

NPR writes that the Food and Drug Administration is grappling with how to regulate medical apps. The agency said back in 2011 that it might start regulating those that could turn a phone into a medical device, but so far there's no definitive action on that front. For now, app users are pretty much on their own in figuring out whether a medical app is worth the download, NPR says.

Ferris said sticking with skin cancer apps that just make the self-check process a little easier might be the best policy. Some apps, she said, will send reminders that it's time to take a look. Others help organize and store photos of moles, so that the mole's owner can watch for changes, then go to a dermatologist.


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