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Are you thinking about downloading that $5 smartphone app that claims to have the most advanced algorithm for analyzing skin lesions from a photo? Well, think again. A new study suggests that these apps are not very good at determining which ones are cancerous.
Marketed As Educational Only
The apps are marketed as educational only and so aren't covered as medical devices under the Food and Drug Administration's regulations. But that may not stop some people from relying on the inexpensive tools instead of going to see a dermatologist, researchers said - which could mean slower diagnosis of potentially dangerous lesions.
"There's no substitute, at this point, for a complete skin exam performed by an expert dermatologist for picking up melanoma as well as other skin cancers," said Dr. Karen Edison, a dermatologist from University of Missouri in Columbia who wasn't involved in the new study. “For example, even if an app makes a correct diagnosis of melanoma, that doesn't necessarily help if the patient doesn't know where to get a biopsy or doesn't have insurance to pay for it”, Edison said. "We're all for technology, but we need to keep it in perspective, and make it a tool."
Three of those apps, which cost under $5 to own, use algorithms to determine whether a lesion is likely to be cancerous or not. The fourth sends images to a certified dermatologist for evaluation, at a price of $5 per lesion.
Of the three algorithm-based apps, the most accurate still missed 18 of the 60 melanomas, mistakenly classifying them as lower-risk, Dr. Laura Ferris from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania and her colleagues reported Wednesday in JAMA Dermatology. The dermatologist consultation app did better than the others, misdiagnosing just one out of 53 evaluable images of cancerous lesions.
All but one of the apps classified more than half of the benign, non-cancerous lesions as problematic. The researchers said they chose not to release the commercial names of the apps evaluated because their purpose was to determine the accuracy of this type of tool, in general.
In conclusion, don't waste your money on these apps. No technology can beat in-person exams to check for skin cancer. Early detection is the key.
Source: JAMA Dermatology